Oph3lia, Hamlet, Macbeth & More

Okay I was going to do this in a logical way, starting with the first show and moving on up in time to this afternoon (Sunday). But I can’t do it that way because I have been moved to tears and almost to speechlessness by the extraordinary, astonishing, near-perfect masterpiece that is Aya Ogawa’s Oph3lia.

I have been so busy that I hadn’t read any of the reviews, hadn’t talked to anyone about the show, I knew nothing about it except the brief excerpt I saw at HERE maybe a year or so ago. So I came into to theater blind, for all intents and purposes, with no expectations. It was my first chance to see the newly renovated HERE, which is absolutely magnificent. Kudos to Kristin, Kim, Katy, Karina, Jose & all the other countless staff members, volunteers, donors and artists who have worked so hard for so long. The space is beautiful and has basically leapfrogged over all the other downtown theaters. HERE is now, physically, the best theater-going experience downtown. Without a doubt.

So, I was already primed and excited going into the show. Little did I know what was to come. Ostensibly three disparate stories of displacement, isolation and disconnection expose the cultural crises that pervade our global society, Oph3lia is, in my opinion, one story, the same story, told through different characters in different places in different times. (I’m sorry, Claudia, but I think you missed it on this one, there is nothing clumsy or forced in this show.)

Unfortunately I do not have the critical or writerly gifts to do justice to this show. It was seamless and complete, moving, surreal, meticulous, emotionally powerful, beautifully written and artfully staged, scored and directed. Ogawa achieves a startling aesthetic unity, allowing the audience to connect the various narrative elements in many different and meaningful ways. She creates a visceral experience of Ophelia, the entire piece is Ophelia, is the experience of being in the world misunderstood, with no voice, beautiful, immutable, simultaneously object and subject.

The actors are all fantastic, the sound design is impeccable, the lighting and set… I really don’t know how to describe this show other than to say it is the most extraordinarily gratifying work of theater I have seen in a long, long time. I can hardly remember the last time I left a theater with that deep, deep feeling of having been “experienced” to quote Hendrix. That aesthetic arrest, that sensation of being shaken and moved, to being somehow transformed, to have my mind and heart simultaneously engaged.

Oph3lia pulled together so many things people talk about – globalization, technology, post-modern identity, art vs. commerce, alienation of modern society, the challenges of human interaction and intimacy, the search for connection and meaning – and wove them into this beautiful, heart-breaking, hilarious, world-unto-itself. You MUST GO SEE THIS SHOW! This show should travel around the world, playing at every international festival, at Shakespeare festivals, pretty much everywhere. I’m still reeling. I think I’m going to take a break from seeing shows for awhile because I don’t want to ruin the extraordinary feeling I have.

The rest of my weekend, including a solo Hamlet at TerraNova’s SOLOnova festival, Macbeth at St. Ann’s, Builder’s Association at The Kitchen and more….after the jump.

So, to backtrack a little bit.

Tuesday night I went to Gracie Mansion and got my picture taken with the Mayor. He’s really short. It was some Jewish thing. They had good food and free wine and a pop-classical violin playing hottie chick from Israel. Good times.

Thursday night I went to the opening of Macbeth at St. Ann’s Warehouse which was a lot of fun. Everybody was there, lots of chatting and catching up, more wine and snacks and friends and stuff. Unfortunately, after so much hullabaloo and expectation the show itself was just okay. It was an amazing spectacle with fire and blood and helicopters and spotlights and cool video and headphones and it was definitely a major experience. There were definitely some moments where it felt disturbing, kind of “banality of evil” – blood on the floor of an abbatoir, etc. But I think Isherwood was pretty spot-on when he wrote:

“The coordination of images, sound and action is superb, and many sequences are staged simultaneously, creating a kind of split-screen effect. With its elaborate cinematic mise-en-scène and high-tech accoutrements, Mr. Jarzyna’s “Macbeth” is almost the antithesis of the Polish theater iconoclast Jerzy Grotowski’s “poor theater,” although Mr. Jarzyna could be said to share with Grotowski the idea of a theatrical text as a mere taking-off point for a director’s vision.”

The stagecraft was great, but it was not a particularly challenging or insightful interpretation of the script. Still major kudos to the staff at St. Ann’s and all the actors, the director, etc. for pulling off such a major production in such a beautiful location. It is worth checking out if you can still get tickets.

Friday night I ran into a friend who owns a Mexican restaurant. There was a lot of tequila involved. But before the tequila happened I went down to 3LD to see Reid Farrington‘s Passion Project. It is definitely more of a dance piece or installation then a theater piece, but it is worth checking out. It is still a work-in-progress and it’ll be interesting to see how it changes between now and its “official” premiere at PS122 in the fall. The 3LD space is particularly well-suited to the piece, giving it a wonderful interactive quality. The audience moves around the perimeter of the video/sculpture installation, reading subtitles and seeing it all from various perspectives. The performance – Shelley Kay as Joan – is oblique and engaging, as she manipulates various screens to capture the images form the various incarnations/prints of the Dreyer film. I’m not sure what it all meant, but it was compelling. It is playing for a few more weeks, go check it out. Also, I’m sure Reid would welcome feedback as he continues to develop the work throughout his 3LD residency.

Saturday afternoon, nursing my tequila hangover, I went to the Kitchen to see a little preview of the Builder’s Association’s new work Continuous City, complete with talkback. It was pretty cool. Joe Silovsky has invented some really cool gadgets and they’re exploring some interesting ideas. There’s a web interactive component where audience members can upload there on videos, there will be localized blogs, there’s all kinds of cool video and audio stuff going on. I’m curious to see how it all shapes up in the next few months. they’ll be doing another preview/talk at PRELUDE which is September 24-27, 2008. Mark your calendars!

Saturday night I went to TerraNova Collective‘s 5th anniversary party for their soloNOVA festival, which was a blast. I finally got to see Raoul Bhaneja’s Hamlet (Solo) which was really wonderful. He’s a great actor and the adaptation of the play is really spot-on. It is very economical, Fortinbras is gone, England is gone – it follows a really clear track focusing on Hamlet’s journey. He elucidates some of the more tricky relationships and brings a wonderful sense of character and play to the story. It is interesting to note though that Ophelia, here, is still a bit of a cipher, which lends all the more power and significance to Aya Ogawa’s piece, which moves her to the center of the story.

Anyway, Hamlet (solo) is really well-done and quite entertaining – I think there’s one more show, so go see it. The TerraNova 5th Anniversary party was great fun and the soloNOVA festival continues for two more weeks. I will be returning to see a few more shows, Jennifer, James & Co. always do a great job with the festival, mixing it up with everything from comedy to classics, to performance arts. I’m looking forward to Julia May Jonas’ Take Heart, directed by Jess Barbagallo and am curious about this show Sally:M.I.A.

Sunday, today. I saw Oph3lia, and loved it. Now I might take a break and just savor its theater-y goodness. MMMMmmmm.

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