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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

ETB’s ‘Distract’ a haunting look at women of Shakespeare

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Shakespeare’s works have been critiqued, poked and prodded for centuries—exalted and decimated, loved and hated—he’s a fixture of Western culture. This week, winter term’s ETB season began with a bang in iambic pentameter with Distract, a compilation of scenes from King John, Macbeth, and Hamlet, directed by Hannah Gellman ’18.

Distract, a work adapted by Jonathan Croy from Shakespeare’s works, is an examination of madness, particularly how madness coalesces in Shakespeare’s women: Constance, Lady Macbeth, and Ophelia, in this case. Although I was wary of the show’s premise, Distract is a complete delight, as haunting as it is a wonderful production. The show is color coded, with lights (designed by Calvin Phan ’17) to match black costumes accented with accessories in corresponding colors: red for Macbeth, purple for King John, and blue for Hamlet.

The characters from each scene flit on and off-stage, their stories blending into each other as the characters meet the circumstances that drive them to perceived “madness”. Standout performances come from Anna Schmiel ’17 as a heart-wrenching Ophelia, eerily drowning her sorrows in song, and her Hamlet (Mark Steitz ’18), a bone-chilling playboy toying with her heart. Anna Johnson’s ’19 vengeful Lady Macbeth glows in the midst of bloodshed, and Anne Hackman’s grievous Constance is wonderful.

The show is a commitment to reframing female madness, de-centering these male-centered plays to give the women more of the stage. This was particularly refreshing to see in Ophelia, a character who has been immortalized in art and pop culture as a drowned woman, surrounded by flowers. Schmiel’s performance brings her struggle to the foreground, a woman who refused to be silenced by those who tell her she’s mad, growing louder as the play progresses. The end result is an introspective play, driven by strong performances, a brilliant framing device, and a wonderful way to spend an evening.

At less than an hour, Distract is a short and thought-provoking window into the mind of Shakespeare’s more prominent female characters.

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