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Juggling Roles

By Julie Chernoff

Photography by Clay Patrick McBride

11.05.18

For the multihyphenate Kate Hamill, the play’s the thing.

 When Kate Hamill started her acting career, the roles she auditioned for frustrated her: wife, girlfriend or prostitute. “The women onstage didn’t resemble human creatures, or at least the ones I knew,” Hamill says. “They weren’t complicated, funny or vulgar. They were there to help the male protagonist on his journey. They were always tertiary.” It fueled her resolve to start writing plays that provided women—herself included—with parts that weren’t filtered through the male gaze. Fast-forward to this month at Skokie’s Northlight Theatre, which is presenting the world premiere of Hamill’s adaptation of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park. Hamill is now an award-winning and prolific playwright—and one of America’s most often produced. This is Hamill’s third Austen outing, and she feels a strong connection to the author. “She’s my favorite no-longer-alive collaborator,” laughs Hamill. “Jane Austen was ahead of her time. She was so clear-sighted about the hypocrisies we visit upon ourselves and each other while still leaving room for love, affection and vulnerability.” Hamill’s approach to adaptation is never simply cut-and-paste; she approaches each story through the lens of a new play—a retelling of the tale that remains true to the original substance of the piece. Most essential to her? Creating strong, believable female characters, which Austen does so well. So Hamill will keep writing those roles (Little Women also premieres this year; The Odyssey and The Scarlet Letter are in the pipeline) and acting, because “the balance of the two keeps me grounded and sane,” she says. “Hyphenates are really starting to be more of a thing, for which I’m very grateful to Lin-Manuel Miranda!” Nov. 8-Dec. 16, tickets $30-$52, northlight.‌org