Preview: XU ‘Hamlet’ jousts with gender

By: Riley Head ~Staff Writer~

Photo courtesy of Xavier Theatre | Hamlet is directed by Craig Wesley Divinio (Claudius) and Kathleen Wise (Gertrude) and stars senior Katie Mitchell (Hamlet), junior Henry Eden (Laertes) and first-year Ellie Conniff (Ophelia).

Xavier Theatre is tackling Shakespeare’s classic tragedy, Hamlet and features a unique twist on the timeless story: Hamlet is played by a girl.

The show is co-directed by Craig Wesley Divino and Kathleen Wise, who are both professional directors and actors based in New York City. The two will also perform the roles of King Claudius, the antagonist, and Queen Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother.

Divino was the original director of the project and wanted to approach it as a collaboration among everyone in the cast.

“Kathleen and I are creating an environment where the students feel empowered to create the play themselves and just be guided by us,” Divino said in an interview with the Enquirer.

Divino is the co-founder and co-artistic director of New York’s Fault Line Theatre. He became connected with Cincinnati through his performances in Playhouse in the Park’s production of A Christmas Carol. There he met Kathleen Wise, whom he invited to be his co-director.

“We’ve been really emphasizing everyone bringing their own ideas to the table,” Wise said. “We came in with some ideas and a lot of experience as professional actors, but we also wanted to be giving them the opportunity to work with us as actors and directors and to feel like they could also contribute ideas to their own role, to their costumes.”

The most noticeable shift is senior Katie Mitchell playing the titular role. She is cast as the tormented protagonist, and while the show maintains the original masculine pronouns, a female lead provides a fresh take on a tale as old as time.

“Craig and I were open to considering a woman for Hamlet but we were staying open to whatever we saw with just being gender -blind casting,” Wise said. “It’s not like you can ignore the fact that it’s a woman, and I think for myself as a feminist and a woman in the acting and entertainment business where there is such a lack of strong female roles and especially in Shakespeare’s canon, it really is exciting to watch a woman have the opportunity of one of the greatest roles in all of theater.”

Horatio, Hamlet’s faithful friend, is also played by a woman, first-year Gigi Relic.

Mitchell brought some of her own insights to the part. She is a process-oriented actor, which sometimes means doing some out-of-the-box activities to mentally prepare for her role.

“I really wanted to get into his skin. Journaling was definitely a huge part of the process for me. I wanted my Hamlet to be my own, and because of that I decided to chop my hair off as soon as I got the part,” Mitchell said.

“I wanted to be able to dive into this world with as much freedom as I could warrant myself. Hamlet has taken over my mind since, and while at times he has been ruthless and demanding, I’ll be sad to part with him. I think his story is one that a lot of people will find themselves surprised to relate to, particularly if they don’t familiarize themselves with Shakespeare already.”

The production will also feature all in-house sound making. Firstyear Cat Sholtis (Rosencrantz) and sophomore Micah Price (Guildenstern) will be producing all the sound effects using percussion and other instruments found in the theater.

The show features a relatively large cast and crew. The production also involves two student directors, sophomores Hannah Sgambellone (Fortinbras) and Annie Mayer, who help keep scenes on track and provide notes while Wise and Divino are acting.

Hamlet will be running from Thursday, Feb. 9 to Sunday, Feb. 12 in the Gallagher Student Center (GSC) Theatre. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. with a matinee 2 p.m. performance on Sunday.

Tickets can be purchased at the GSC box office in person, by calling 513-745-3939 or by visiting Tickets are priced at $12 for students and $17 for general admission.