What does single-gender casting do for plays and their audiences? In a Shakespeare Unlimitedpodcast published by the Folger Shakespeare Library on June 27, 2017, Barbara Bogaev asked Phyllida Lloyd, the director of a trilogy of all-female Shakespeare productions in London, what the effect and power of such casting is for Shakespeare audiences today. Lloyd answered that "what's thrilling about it, whether it's all men, or all women, is that you start seeing the shapes, […] hearing new parts of the text." Such casting also offers a "disruption" of expectations about gender, she added. Her own decision to do Shakespeare with an all-female cast was inspired by a generative anger at how few theater jobs were available to women in her part of the world in the early twenty-first century. Her project began as "jobs for the girls, unashamedly. I didn't want my niece going to see any more classical plays thinking […] 'I'm the one in the corner, sort of mooning over the leading man.' I wanted to feel that she could go to the theatre and think, 'My God, I could be in charge.'"
In Angie Higgins's energetic Hamlet, part of Silicon Valley Shakespeare's 2017 season, women were confidently in charge. The actors were all women, and there was a sense of their playing for something bigger than their audience's engagement with just this play. To this reviewer, their dynamism spoke to their stewardship for independent and community theater, and their assertion of the significance of women in theater and the world today. Women also dominated in the crew; their use of lights and colors to successfully evoke a cold Denmark in the lush woods of the Santa Cruz mountains of California attested to a fine understanding of the venue of the performance, the devices of theater, and the play itself. Staged under an evening sky in a mountain park of redwoods and tan bark oaks, the theme that this presentation underscored was that of haunting. Actual trees that started life before the common era stood at the edge of the audience's attention as a group of present-day women-players [End Page 156]performed centuries-old characters who all seemed capable of imagining better versions of themselves but could not ultimately become them. That the production's predominantly young cast succeeded in evoking such a sense of intangible but real possibility for the characters of the play—and for the world in which the play is performed—may be testimony to the discoveries fostered by a collective exploration of a seminal text, or the vision of the director, or the reciprocal relationship of this troupe with its audience, or just the plain hard work of a multiethnic and dedicated team. The effect was distinctly rewarding.
In the first scene, the manifoldness of haunting(s) was underlined by not one, but three ghostly figures emerging from the woods, almost as though each of the watchers, Marcellus, Bernardo, and Horatio, had a ghost of their own. One of the most evocative effects of the production was the doubling of the dead king and his living brother by the same actor, thus underscoring the potential continuities and conflicted affiliations between these individuals. (When in the closet scene later Hamlet urged his mother to look at the "counterfeit presentment of two brothers" (3.4.64), it was clear that the difference Hamlet asserted between them rested on what he knew of the personsthey stood for.) Doll Piccotto, the actor in this double role of the Ghost and Claudius, was magnificent in her ruthlessness as Claudius on the one hand, and her tenderness as the once...