nytheatre.com review by Jack Hanley
August 17, 2006
If the Bard's Ophelia had whined as much as she does in Ashley Minihan's new play, Ophelia, audiences may have applauded when Gertrude speaks the lines, "Till that her garments, heavy with their drink,/pull'd the poor wretch from her melodious lay/to muddy death." There are numerous theories on the mysterious young woman of Elsinore, so putting her at the center of a twist on Hamlet is an interesting idea that unfortunately has yielded an uninteresting play.
Minihan gives Ophelia the contemporary voice of a bored teenager from the 'burbs, except that she lives in a palace (that she's really tired of), has a maidservant (who gets in her space), and has a flirty thing with the Prince of Denmark (except he's gotten so moody; why won't he just act like a normal guy?) And her Father, Polonius, and her brother, Laertes: well, they just won't let her alone. Her brother won't let her play with her doll, and her father won't let her wear a sexy dress. Hamlet's not the only one in this house with an existential crisis—or so the playwright tries to make us believe.
Minihan wants to reveal Ophelia as a character who is as complex and conflicted as Hamlet: Hamlet can't get himself to avenge his father's murder and Ophelia can't get herself to move out of the palace and live in the nearby nunnery. That's right, she wants to live in the nunnery. It's Minihan's somewhat implausible answer to why Hamlet makes his famously curious, caustic command. Why does she want to live in the nunnery: because all men are rotten. No doubt the playwright is making a not-too-subtle point: Shakespeare's Hamlet thinks the same of all women. However there's not much story in Minihan's exploration of the parallels between Hamlet and Ophelia. The play as I saw it seemed better suited to be a scholarly paper.
There are some cute and funny moments when one of the players (Brendan Griffin) from the visiting troupe tries to convince Ophelia to run away with him. But much of story has a serious tone made burdensomely serious by the countless pregnant pauses. I can't be sure if these pauses have been written into the play or if they are the poor choice of the director, Ilo Orleans. No matter, the plodding pace of this work made it difficult for me to engage my attention.
Also, the intermission seemed as pointless as the pauses, further distancing me from the action. The setting does not change (nor the props) and there is no major plot twist revealed at the end of act one. Without the intermission the play would have clocked in at around 90 minutes, perfectly suitable for a one-act.
Unfortunately, I never felt a palpable conflict to make this even an engaging one-act. Yes, Ophelia has trouble making decisions but those decisions and, worse, her very being seemed quotidian—especially compared to the original Ophelia.