“Full of sound and fury, signifying [a crazy night of theater]”. That’s the quick summary of Taffety Punk Theatre Company’s world premiere of Enter Ophelia, distracted, Kimberly Gilbert’s kaleidoscopic fusion of modern dance, fractured Shakespearean prose, and jagged soundscapes. It’s hard to describe the experience of stepping inside the mind of Hamlet’s Ophelia as she spirals into the neon depths of madness – I’m still processing everything, myself. Let’s just say you have to see it to believe it.
Each performance of Enter Ophelia begins with a guest performer, and during my visit the audience was treated to an enthusiastic choreo-play by the personable Stephen Clapp. Clapp whirled about the stage, blending animated dance moves with reflections on capitalism, global warming, and the eternal paradox of human nature. It was a surprisingly deep and affecting performance, full of guileless enthusiasm and a wisdom that belied Clapp’s youthful exterior.
After a brief intermission and set change, Enter Ophelia, distracted kicked off with a flourish, as Gilbert and fellow performers Eleni Grove, Katie Murphy, and Erin White appeared standing motionless and bathed in red light. According to Gilbert, each actress represents a different piece of Ophelia’s fragile psyche.
Soon after the lights came up, Gilbert’s co-conspirator and sound designer Marcus Kyd unleashed a jarring sonic backdrop, composed of warped and repurposed snippets of dialogue ripped from the text of Hamlet. When combined with the unsettling drone of composer Amy Domingues’ looping strings, it felt like I had walked into a scene from Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining”. That’s high praise, given Kubrick’s talent for imprinting indelible images upon the mind of the viewer.
ENTER OPHELIA, DISTRACTED
Closes June 28, 2014
Capitol Hill Arts Workshop
545 7th Street, SE
1 hour, no intermission
Friday and Saturday
As the production hit its stride, Ophelia’s four personas slowly lost what little control they had, developing an unsettling array of nervous tics and Tourette’s-like outbursts. Kyd’s soundtrack offered a pitch-perfect companion to their collective meltdown, unnerving the women with erratic voiceovers from Hamlet and company. Hamlet’s famous condemnation “Get thee to a nunnery”, signaled the start of the final crazy act, where things really hit the fan. Swirling colors, eerie babbling, and mournful funeral odes propelled Ophelia inexorably toward her preordained fate (which, spoiler alert, involves a creaky willow tree over a brook).
The production got a bit hazy toward the end, with dialogue usually drowned out beneath the loud voiceovers and droning cello. And Gilbert and Kyd certainly don’t offer any handholding for audience members unfamiliar with Hamlet’s progression of events; if you’re lost, you just have to hold on for the ride.
Ultimately, the show is best enjoyed by sitting back and letting the madness wash over you, rather than trying to pick out individual details of conversations and psychodramas playing out in Ophelia’s shattered mind. Gilbert and company deserve praise for going big and twisting a well-worn Shakespearean text into such an original vision, even if it’s not always clear what that vision is. Just be sure to bring an open mind, and maybe a pocket copy of Hamlet, just in case.
Enter Ophelia, distracted . Created by Kimberly Gilbert . Directed by Kimberly Gilbert, Marcus Kyd, and Erin F. Mitchell . Choregraphy by Erin Mitchell . riginal music by Amy Domingues . Sound design by Marcus Kyd . Produced by Taffety Punk Theatre Company . Reviewed by Ben Demers.