Pittsburgh Institute for Nonprofit Journalism – Shakespeare is old hat. Every theater in the world does “Hamlet.” There are thousands upon thousands of different versions of Hamlet from the Miltonian Hamlet of the 17th century to recent editions like Kenneth Branagh’s spy-Hamlet, or the 2022 Pulitzer winner “Fat Ham” by James Ijames. Quantum Theater’s take on Hamlet makes it their own.
“We need to recreate this for our time and tell our story,” director Jeffrey Carpenter said. “It is our job to shrug off all that sh*t and make it for ourselves.”
The outdoor stage, a semicircle of stairs painted steel gray, surrounds a bed of gravel adorned only with a few steel ingots that double as train cars, graves, and a closet. On the train tracks above the stage, an art installation of mannequins in police gear watch forebodingly.
Marcellus (Dylan Meyers) enters in a bulletproof vest and a helmet, carrying a baton, and it is clear: something is rotten here. Over the next two and a half hours, Treasure Treasure shines as the cunning Hamlet with a quick, sardonic wit and depressive streak. Treasure, a trans woman, carries the weight of the first-born son and his right to the throne.
In an interview, Treasure talked about climate change and regime change in politics. With Carrie Furnace standing watch over the drama, the underpinnings of steel, labor, and political change come to the fore. But with Treasure in the lead role, what makes Quantum Theater’s Hamlet something to see is a tale for all time: who is Hamlet?
“We’re still discovering that Hamlet’s soul is a woman, the divine feminine,” Treasure said. There are so many duties required of him, demands made upon him — son and heir to the throne.
“All of these roles,” Treasure said, “are still being cast upon Hamlet.”
Treasure plays up the youthful arrogance of Hamlet, almost as a coping mechanism for the identity crisis he faces. He thinks he’s smarter than everyone else, outwitting and outplaying them, but Hamlet can only change so much. Treasure said, “The world as we know it is ending. Hamlet’s world is upside down. How much of that can Hamlet control? Hamlet is just doing the best he can.”
She added, “We’re all just doing the best we can.”
With show-stealing performances from Ophelia (Saige Smith) and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (Dave Mansueto and Theo Allyn), Quantum’s Hamlet makes old things new again as it plays with gender norms and laughs at cliché. There is ground covered by the new story—police surveillance, labor rights, television politics, perceptions of gender and more—while still covering the hits: love and loss, paranoia and madness, power and the constant drumbeat of change.
There’s a reason Hamlet is so often performed. The creative team changed little of the script, focusing on what makes Hamlet such a powerful play 400 years after Shakespeare, and they updated much of the performance to resonate with Pittsburgh today.
This isn’t the first time artistic director Karla Boos has worked at the iconic Mon Valley location — Quantum staged “King Lear” at Carrie Furnace in 2019, with Carpenter in the lead role. Working in the shadow of the steelworks inspires the creative process today.
“We burn away the impurities and make something new. It’s the same process as making steel,” Carpenter said.