BOOKS and CDs
LETTERS TO EDITOR
|A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
The Secret Love Life of Ophelia
by Laura Hitchcock
The title sounds like a joke but anyone familiar with the dense passionate work of playwright/actor/director Steven Berkoff knows that he whittles away at his themes with icy precision.Produced by Ron Sossi and Beth Hogan at the 33-year-old Odyssey Theatre, noted for its interest in foreign plays, the play receives its American premiere under the direction of Barry Philips, based on the original production directed by Berkoff.
Berkoff attacks the subtext of Shakespeare's Hamlet in a fierce and delicate production, in which Hamlet and Ophelia write each other letters and express to themselves and each other their erotic and frustrated passion, cued by off-stage lines from Shakespeare's play.
Writing in blank verse, Berkoff catches Shakespeare's rhythm and the two fine performances of Dominic Comperatore as Hamlet and Ingrid Nelson as Ophelia blossom as they dive into the language.
Act I ends with Hamlet's promise that hell visit Ophelia at midnight and tell her the awful secret. We know it's the murder of his father by his uncle but Hamlet never keeps that rendez-vous. First, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern distract him and then there's that unfortunate murder of what Hamlet declares is a rat in the arras, but which turns out to be Ophelia's father Polonius.
Accompanied by pianist Jeannie Novak, who composed the music based on Elliot Davis' original score, the two black-clad figures against white wallpaper scribbled with black phrases sometimes evoke a minuet or a chamber music piece. The ambiance is very much in keeping with the period. The passion, however, is totally contemporary.
The characters talk more about what they feel than why, obsessed by their mutual eroticism. All we know about Hamlet is what Ophelia reads in his love letters. The existential soliloquies, the tortured conscience, that's that other play.
This is Ophelia's moment. She matures from shy polite young girl to a passion-wracked being whose moment of glory never comes.
Berkoff doesn't give us any more psychological dissection of Ophelia's descent into madness than Shakespeare did, alas. It's an opportunity that would have been wonderful to seize but the choice to disdain contemporary analysis is certainly viable.
In the final scene, Ophelia gathers flowers against Gertrude's off-stage monologue, recorded by Shaheen Vaaz, and slightly muffled on the night reviewed. Hamlet's soundless scream closes the show.
Stylized gestures, such as miming letter-writing, are a Berkoff trademark. Here they reinforce the outsize passion of the pair.
Production elements are exquisite, highlighted by John Fejes' lighting design which uses different shades to set different scenes and Kristine Upesleja's elegant costumes.
The black and white wallpaper reminds us that there are no secrets in this secret love life. It's source material for the words.
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
Click image to buy.
Go here for details and larger image.