Shakespeare in the Parking Lot Infuses “Hamlet” with Women’s Empowerment

Shakespeare in the Parking Lot Infuses “Hamlet” with Women’s Empowerment

The indefatigable Lower East Side theater project Shakespeare in the Parking Lot is celebrating its 24th year with a production of “Hamlet,” albeit with a twist. Set in modern times, the production, directed by Karla Hendrick, stages the lead role (Jane Bradley) as an intelligent, determined, noble woman who has been deeply betrayed by her uncle. Several other characters, including Rosencrantz and Guilderstern, are also reimagined as women, and Hamlet and Ophelia become lesbian lovers.

“I was really fascinated by the exploration of what would happen if we inserted feminine power into the story,” said Hendrick, “and how it would change the relationships and how we might hear that language and the text as if for the first time. And what might rise to the surface as far as what was new and exciting, and what might actually even make more sense.”

Shakespeare in the Parking Lot’s 2018 production of “Hamlet,” performed in the parking lot of the Clemente, on New York’s Lower East Side.

The casting decisions have a significant influence on the dynamic and overall feel of the play, but its general themes — on human nature and human struggle — still come through, said Hendrick, as is often the case with Shakespeare, given the easily adaptable nature of the work.

“It just seemed to make perfect sense to me that this person, Claudius, inserts himself into the line of succession displacing Hamlet and then the self-reflection and introspection and life journey that Hamlet is on as a result of that — it just seems natural that it be a woman, one, because of what we’re dealing with in society today. There are so many reflections of that.”

Shakespeare in the Parking Lot, a project of the New York theater group the Drilling Company, has become a beloved neighborhood institution with its free summer productions of Shakespearean plays, open to all and staged in working parking lots. The project launched in the municipal parking lot on the corner of Ludlow and Broome Streets, and this year moved to the parking lot of the Lower East Side cultural institution the Clemente, on Norfolk Street between Delancey and Rivington.

Top Image: Jane Bradley in the role of Hamlet.