Hamlet, Thy Name is Laura Welsh Berg 

This is the first time in more than a decade ISF has staged Shakespeare's famous tragedy

Laura Welsh Berg presents a pitch-perfect prince.

Idaho Shakespeare Festival

Laura Welsh Berg presents a pitch-perfect prince.

At the June 2 production of Idaho Shakespeare Festival 2017 opener Hamlet, the audience was treated to something even diehard Bard fans may not have seen before: a female actor playing the title role. This is the first time in more than a decade ISF has staged Shakespeare's famous tragedy, and the first time it has cast a woman as the hand-wringing Danish prince who must negotiate tortured relationships with his mother and girlfriend while plotting revenge against his murderous uncle-turned-stepfather.

Laura Welsh Berg and Jonathan Dyrud will alternate portraying the prince throughout the season, and it was Berg who brought Hamlet to life opening night, capturing the brooding, baleful qualities and feverish energy of the character.

Berg joins a long line of actresses playing Hamlet. In the 18th century, Charlotte Clarke and "Mrs Powell" were the first, and there have been many others since—including acclaimed contemporary performances by Frances de la Tour and Maxine Peake.

This year, Berg is one of at least two women cast as Hamlet in the U.S.—the other is Lenne Klingaman, who will portray him during the July-August run of the play at the Colorado Shakespeare Festival. Seeing a woman deliver the lines "Frailty, thy name is woman" and "Get thee to a nunnery" imbues them with particular consequence and venom, and it also cuts the deja vu. Hamlet is sacred in the theatrical canon, but the 400-year-old-play is so overly familiar, much of it has become cliche over time, with few surprises as actors deliver iconic line after iconic line: "To be, or not to be" is buried so deep into pop culture, it can feel at odds with the thoughtful speech it initiates.

Berg in the role of Hamlet is enough to once again pull in audiences and loosen the play from the grip of popular understanding. It's a chance to see Hamlet with new eyes—and it doesn't get much more modern than that.

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