In this new play at Roundabout's American Airlines Theater, the audience is presented with an interesting commentary on how women were viewed in theater in the end of the 19th century. A surprisingly funny, fast-paced, and clever play, Bernhardt/Hamlet not only gives us an opinion on how women were viewed, but on what is arguably Shakespeare's most famous work and how he wrote it.
Theresa Rebceck, the author of the play, has managed to blend scenes from Hamlet with her own interpretation of what happened behind the scenes at that production. While it does not claim to be entirely historically accurate, it still allows you to peek behind the curtain of a landmark production of Hamlet.
Despite the various characters we follow (other than Sarah Bernhardt) and Rebeck's attempt to put her opinions on women in theater and Shakespeare into a certain amount of time, it somehow works.
The best part of the show, however, is Janet McTeer. She is a force of nature, taking on both title roles and exploring them with a certain level of reverence while still making them her own. She is the true star, and the rest of the cast plays off her beautifully. When they are all together on stage as an ensemble they are absolutely impeccable.
That said, there are missteps, such as including a scene from Cyrano, which feels out of place in a story that should be focused on Bernhardt herself. While it sets up the dialogue of the final scene, it could have done without actually performing a scene, and likely would have had a greater effect. The ending itself, showing Sarah Bernhardt on screen feels like a fitting tribute to her in the rest of her career, and leaves you with some sense of fulfillment, that the author's commentaries do not.