Twelve Ophelias (a play with broken songs)
nytheatre.com review by Saviana Stanescu
July 19, 2008
It's absolutely refreshing—in the present-day theatre world full of shows that can easily be TV sitcoms or TV dramas—to see a production that's truly, genuinely, wonderfully theatrical. I applaud Woodshed Collective for their risk-taking project—this environmental site-specific show that does justice to Caridad Svich's lyrical play Twelve Ophelias.
Svich is known for her many re-inventions of the classics in which she sometimes creates sort-of sequels to the original plays, continuations set in an undefined time and space, in the afterlife or after-story. The playwright loves to "rescue" especially female characters and give them more choices, more feelings, and more life, while offering audiences a chance to look at an old well-known story in new and different ways. It's something similar to a hall of mirrors—a watery trance taking us away from the solid ground of credible facts, verified knowledge, psychological-realistic drama, and "drowning" us with ambiguity, poetry, and spectacle.
This time, Caridad Svich is on the rescue of Shakespeare's Ophelia, whose wretched fate is to be challenged and rewritten. She "rises up out of the water dreaming of Pop-Tarts and other sweet things. She finds herself in a neo-Elizabethan Appalachian setting where Gertrude runs a brothel, Hamlet is called a Rude Boy, and nothing is what it seems. In this mirrored world of word-scraps and cold sex, Ophelia cuts a new path for herself."
This Ophelia (Pepper Binkley) is a girl-woman with childish cravings for sweets and popsicles, while lusting for the Rude Boy (the charismatic Dan Cozzens) and having wild sex with him. She's all about sensuality, unlived life, un-walked roads ready to be discovered. She can be a not-so-romantic little mermaid who found her gorgeous angry-sexy prince but eventually manages to see him as disposable.
Gertrude (Kate Benson) sings and walks with majesty; she's a "madam" taking care of her girls with poise, style, and innate dignity. Mina (Jocelyn Kuritsky), one of the "whores," cynical yet nice, is all temperament and spontaneity. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are here R and G, two androgynous guardians of memory, played with nuanced physicality by Grace McLean and Preston Martin. Horatio becomes H (Ben Beckley), best friend and confidante of Rude Boy, a partner for boyish-manly things like wrestling, fighting, and talking about women.
But what makes this production so compelling and unique is the beautiful coordination of three main elements: the organic set-design by Gabriel Hainer Evansohn, who uses the empty McCarren pool in a very intelligent and effective way, with attention to details and symbols/metaphors at the same time; the precise and imaginative "stage" direction of Teddy Bergman; and the music written and performed live by the arresting Jones Street Boys (with lyrics by Svich). The atmosphere they manage to induce in this empty pool—transformed into a performance space with rope-roads, wooden-decks, plastic leaves, and imaginary rivers—has intimacy, sensuality, and vibrancy. No wonder people come to have picnics and chomp on pieces of watermelons and chocolate while letting themselves be transfigured by the show (as the ladies sitting on blue beach rugs in front of me did). The sky above us, changing colors; the spectators sitting in a circle, like a breathing amphitheatre; the engaging actors telling a new old story—it sounds like a perfect way of spending a hot-hot-hot evening in New York, doesn't it?