‘Enter Ophelia, distracted’ at Taffety Punk Theatre Company

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The madness and subsequent suicide of Ophelia is one of the most famous scenes from one of the most famous Shakespearean tragedies. It is this aspect of Hamlet that Taffety Punk Theatre Company chooses to explore through movement and sound in their excellent new “Generator” project, Enter Ophelia, distracted.

(l to r) Erin White, Katie Murphy, Kimberly Gilbert, and Eleni Grove. Photo by Teresa Castracane.
(l to r) Erin White, Katie Murphy, Kimberly Gilbert, and Eleni Grove. Photo by Teresa Castracane.

A new work conceived by Taffety member Kimberly Gilbert, and co-directed by Gilbert, Marcus Kyd, and Erin F. Mitchell, Enter Ophelia, distracted uses a variety of theatrical tools to tell the story of Shakespeare’s most beleaguered heroine. Ophelia herself is represented by four actors (Gilbert, Eleni Grove, Katie Murphy, and Erin C. White), five if you count the cellist, Amy Domingues. Each woman is dressed simply and identically, all separate manifestations of Ophelia’s psyche. Initially, the Ophelias are more or less on the same page, dancing in unison and scrutinizing their bodies with an equal degree of excruciating diligence. But as Ophelia endures one injury after the other, the four dancers become more individuated and physically separate.

Erin Mitchell’s choreography is complemented by the wonderfully chaotic soundscape designed by Marcus Kyd. Erratic and harsh, with hints of shattering glass and burned out light bulbs, Kyd’s recorded audio is juxtaposed with the gorgeous and gloomy live cello of Amy Domingues. Just as the four actors represent distinct parts of Ophelia’s mind, the various sounds reflect the ever-shifting nature of consciousness. In effect, the movement and music of Enter Ophelia, together with the precise and effective lighting by Chris Curtis, allow the audience to step inside Ophelia’s mind in a way that a conventional staging of Hamlet never could. It is an emotional experience to do so. In the final moments, there is an odd peace that accompanies the sadness of Kimberly Gilbert’s Ophelia and her inevitable suicide, because we realize that the whirling chaos of her mind has finally been brought to a stop.

Although recorded sound, live music, lighting, and Shakespeare’s text are all utilized to great effect in Enter Ophelia, distracted, the real scaffolding of the show is the movement of the four actors. The choreography is at its strongest when it is individuated, and each actor’s distinct physicality contributes to a greater stage picture. Conversely, the moments of unison would have been more effective had the Ophelias been more tightly synchronized. Likewise, the overall impact of the show would have been greatly increased had the emotional intensity of Kimberly Gilbert been matched by her three fellow actors.

Kimberly Gilbert as Ophelia. Photo by Teresa Castracane.
Kimberly Gilbert as Ophelia. Photo by Teresa Castracane.

Despite this, Enter Ophelia, distracted is an intense and fulfilling experience. It is a refreshing new perspective on Hamlet that utilizes sound, movement, and Classical text in a manner that is both intellectually stimulating and emotionally bracing. It makes us wonder if perhaps the true tragedy of Hamlet has been ignored proper attention for all these years, and it is exciting that it is finally receiving its due.

Running Time: One hour, with one intermission and an “opening act.”

Enter Ophelia, distracted plays through June 28, 2014 at Capitol Hill Arts Workshop -545 7th Street SE, in Washington, DC. For tickets, purchase them online.