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Shakespeare & Beyond

Bernhardt/Hamlet: Inside a new play about Sarah Bernhardt

Bernhardt/Hamlet cast
Bernhardt/Hamlet cast

“There are five kinds of actresses: bad actresses, fair actresses, good actresses, great actresses – and then there is Sarah Bernhardt.” So said Mark Twain about one of the most famous actresses of the 19th century.

A new play by Theresa Rebeck, Bernhardt/Hamlet, shows “the Divine Sarah” grappling with one of Shakespeare’s greatest roles: Hamlet. A Free Folger Friday staged reading at Folger Theatre on Jan. 19 saw DC actress Holly Twyford as the lead, with Luigi Sottile (Henry in The Way of the World) as playwright Edmond Rostand, her friend and lover.

Bernhardt/Hamlet cast

(l-r) Eric Hissom (Constant Coquelin), Holly Twyford (Sarah Bernhardt), Luigi Sottile (Edmond Rostand), and Michael Russotto (Alfonse Mucha) in a staged reading of Bernhardt/Hamlet, written and directed by Theresa Rebeck, at Folger Theatre, 2018. Photo by Teresa Wood.

As she rehearses scenes from Hamlet with the rest of the cast, Bernhardt realizes that something is not quite clicking for her as the Danish prince. But can she handle the possibility of failure? “I want you to re-write Hamlet,” she tells Rostand, to his astonishment and frustration. Meanwhile, others in Paris are gossiping about whether Bernhardt is overreaching and whether the role will sink her reputation.