Poor old Ophelia had too little opportunity to lean in. Confined by old-line social codes, constantly lectured and harangued by men, she could only exercise her inventiveness and gumption (“O, you must wear your rue with a difference”) by going insane.
One can be glad that busy local actress Kimberly Gilbert has had a chance to flex her creative muscles in “Enter Ophelia, Distracted,” a dance-theater piece that she conceived and created through the Taffety Punk Generator project, which was designed to encourage Taffety Punk Theatre Company members (Gilbert is one) to develop original work. The show, which aims to peek into Ophelia’s not-
so-sound mind, concludes a four-
performance run at Capitol Hill Arts Workshop on June 28.
Unfortunately, at least in its current incarnation, “Enter Ophelia, Distracted” is not a satisfying show from an audience perspective. Directed by Gilbert, Marcus Kyd and Erin F. Mitchell, the piece features Gilbert and three female dancers moving to somber music scored and performed live by cellist Amy Domingues (of the experimental-rock entity Garland of Hours). With its revisionist feminist perspective, the production is in theory a worthy project, and it suits a cultural moment that has seen increased attention to the role of women in both contemporary theater and the workplace in general.
Unfortunately, with little live speech, abundant blurry-sounding voice-overs, and choreography that fails to build emotionally or dramatically (Mitchell choreographed), “Enter Ophelia, Distracted” has a frustratingly static quality. You feel that you are glimpsing the perspective of Laertes’s deranged sister, but you don’t see the character transition from sanity to insanity, and you don’t get a sense of what she has lost in the process. (The work’s title, of course, is borrowed from the “Hamlet” stage direction that ushers in Ophelia’s mad scene.)
Doubtless if Gilbert delivered more of Ophelia’s words herself, live, she would convey a sense of change, loss, suffering and distinctive personality, and she would contrive to emphasize the story’s emotional stakes. But what text there is in the piece — all excerpted from “Hamlet” — principally arrives in recorded montage format, with a kind of reverb clouding the words and suggesting a world filtered through an unvarying fevered imagination. (Kyd, Lise Bruneau, and Ed Gero are among the actors who supplied voices representing Hamlet, the Player Queen, Polonius and other characters.)
The presence of dancers Eleni Grove, Katie Murphy and Erin White — dressed, like Gilbert, in white tops and gray leggings, and executing mildly morose, slowly wheeling, often ground-focused movements — suggests that Ophelia’s mental health problems are of a schizophrenic variety. At one point, needless to say, the quartet interacts with a bouquet — a token of Ophelia’s plant-picking habits.
The most involving moment in this version of “Enter Ophelia, Distracted” (Gilbert performed the first iteration in 2005) features all four actor-dancers clustered together. While lines from Hamlet’s “Get thee to a nunnery” scene intone on the soundtrack, the performers’ shoulders jerk abruptly: The women seem to be flinching at the prince’s remarks.
Each performance of “Enter Ophelia, Distracted” is preceded by an opening dance act. Eleni Grove and Matina Phillips are scheduled to perform on June 27 and Katie Sopoci Drake and Heather Doyle are on June 28.
Conceived and adapted by Kimberly Gilbert, with text by William Shakespeare. Directed by Gilbert, Marcus Kyd and
Erin F. Mitchell; sound design, Kyd; lighting design, Chris Curtis. About 40 minutes (not including each evening’s opening dance act). Tickets: $15. Visit www.taffetypunk.com or call
Wren is a freelance writer.