Theater archives

Caridad Svich’s Hillbilly Hamlet


It’s an attractive—though erroneous—linguistics myth that Appalachians speak a strain of English akin to Shakespeare’s. Neither their vocabulary nor their grammar actually mirrors Elizabethan English, but this legend may have inspired playwright Caridad Svich to locate her Hamlet rewrite, Twelve Ophelias, among the hillbilly set. Svich’s play opens with Ophelia rising from a murky pond. She must find herself and save herself among the soda-pop-swilling prostitutes and delinquents who populate this new Elsinore. Here, Gertrude runs a brothel, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are a couple, and Hamlet goes by the fitting sobriquet “Rude Boy.”

Director Teddy Bergman has given the play a spirited production, but he’s made some odd choices. Although he emphasizes the play’s musicality—appealing local band the Jones Street Boys provide the songs—he’s cast a group of actors who can’t sing. And he should perhaps have taken more pains to ground Svich’s airy speech. Furthermore, Woodshed Collective has staged the play’s professional premiere in the husk of the McCarren Park Pool—a fascinating space with watery connotations, but a problematic theater. During an early preview, the sound system couldn’t compete with the ambient noise (planes, children, ice-cream trucks), rendering at best four of every five words audible. We hope this problem has since been remedied—Svich’s cracked language, her “sweet bells jangled out of tune,” shouldn’t have to vie with Mister Softee.

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