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[The] Ophelia Landscape

nytheatre.com review by Saviana Stanescu
May 1, 2010

Reconfigurations of the classics have been the fetish and inspiration of many experimental theatre companies. A text that's well known can be deconstructed and reconstructed in fascinating new ways that allow a director and his ensemble to show their vision and unique personal take.

Such is the case with [The] Ophelia Landscape, a re-exploration of Hamlet's story from a multi-lingual cross-disciplinary multi-Ophelia perspective, conceived and directed by Naum Panovski, devised in collaboration with his newly created company Poiesis Theatre Project.

Poiesis is etymologically derived from the ancient Greek and means to make, to create, to transform the world. It's also the mother/father of the word poetry that preserves the root "poe" in many languages. The name is appropriate for this group of artists that work with poetic text and visceral stage images, physicality, dance, video, and live music in a multimedia mishmash meant to mirror, multiply, and expand the Ophelia character.

No wonder why this production is dedicated to Joe Chaikin the famed creator of the Open Theatre. Although it achieved much critical success, Chaikin said: "I have rarely known a case where a critic's response to actors, directors or writers has expanded or encouraged their talent—I have known cases where by panning or praising, the critic has crushed or discouraged creative inspiration."

So my noble job is to encourage and nurture the creators in this case, so that they will continue exploring cross-cultural postmodern theatrical landscapes.

Although personally I prefer original dramatic texts that reinvent the classics—such as Hamletmachine by Heiner Muller or 12 Ophelias by Caridad Svich—and have a problem with shows that rely on collage and lack an inventive dramaturgy, I feel compelled to acknowledge the hard work of this company and the way in which the international actors have been used so that their accents and their native languages become an organic/necessary part of the production. There are so few possibilities for non-native English speakers and immigrant artists to present the complexity of their talent and this is one of them.

That being said, while I appreciated the beauty, expressiveness, and commitment of the eight actresses playing Ophelia, and the intensity and power of Tony Naumovsky—who plays the Hamlet figure—and I liked the poetic polyphony of the same line in various languages, I don't think that's enough for achieving a strong and original artistic product.

The stunning initial image with the eight Ophelias lying on the ground, like casualties of a war in which women's bodies are the battlefield (hints to the Balkan conflicts of the '90s), is continued with deja-vu romantic images of women-statues and women-ghosts. I would have gladly stayed with the Ophelias of a war zone, that idea was so powerful and poignant for me, but it gets somewhat dispersed in the rest of the production, the accent moving to the love aspects and a heiner-mullerish moment when Ophelia becomes Hamlet combined with the Players' scene in the classic Hamlet.

In any case, the production manages to convey some beautiful moments that capture your eye and soul, lingering provocatively in your mind. Mark Morris Dance Center seems to be the perfect place for such a show that aims to go back/forward to the ritualistic and poetic roots of theatre. The work of a dedicated ensemble and a director/producer who deserve acknowledgment.