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Opheliamachine

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If, as Shakespeare instructs in Hamlet, “Brevity is the soul of wit,” then Magda Romanska’s examination of Hamlet’s naïve nymph, Ophelia – in the world premiere of Opheliamachine (at Santa Monica’s City Garage Theater, through July 28) – ought to be, at a 55-minute running time, one of the most soulful and droll productions currently onstage in the Greater Los Angeles area.

But wittiness and humor are not central to Romanska’s imaginative deconstruction of the Ophelia role and its various interpretations. Inspired by Heiner Muller’s 1979 Hamletmachine, with vivid direction by Frédérique Michel, Romanska’s abstract script is a sort of feminist rebuttal to Muller’ work. If, as is mentioned in a program note, “Muller was never terribly interested in what Ophelia had to say,” then Romanska doesn’t hesitate to put words into Ophelia’s mouth while leaving disturbing images in the collective consciousness of audiences.

In Hamletmachine, Muller (who would accede to the artistic directorship of Bertolt Brecht’s Berliner Ensemble), envisioned a Nietzschean Hamlet laced with Dionysian tendencies; according to Nietzsche, Hamlet and Dionysus (the Greek god associated with drunkenness and sexuality) "both have once looked truly into the essence of things (and) have gained knowledge, (but) nausea inhibits action.” In Opheliamachine, Romanska gives us three iterations of Ophelia: Ophelia, the Brain (Kat Johnson who sits typing on a vintage typewriter while elevated on a riser, center stage); Ophelia, the Terrorist (Megan Kim, armed and, at times, topless); and Ophelia, the Mad (Saffron Mazzia, mostly confined to a wheelchair).

Each Ophelia on display is a postmodern feminist prototype, meant to provoke us to consider the oppressed psychology of Hamlet’s co-character. Is Ophelia a threat or a menace?  Is Ophelia somehow disabled, or at least disempowered? Is Ophelia a heroine or a victim, or perhaps both? While there are no answers put forth regarding these suppositions, what we do get is a nonlinear overview of Ophelia’s largely unfulfilled potential as an individual and dramatic character. What Opheliamachine lacks in plot, it makes up for it in a visual narrative that is borderline assaultive.

Video screens (Arash Ayrom is video editor; Mark Alamares is video researcher) blasts visceral visual imagery on and through a multilayered set design (Charles A. Duncombe, who’s also credited with production and lighting designs). What Opheliamachine most closely resembles is performance art. But the three Ophelia’s are not alone on stage. There’s also RJ Jones, in a nontraditional, off-kilter interpretation of Horatio; Cynthia Mance as Gertrude; Leah Harf as a somewhat random TV host, news anchor and torch singer; and, of course, there’s Hamlet himself, played with slacker instincts by Joss Glennie-Smith.

Opheliamachine is not for everyone. There’s full frontal female nudity on display, and the theatrical conceit is esoteric to say the least. But for Shakespeare aficionados and for curious theatergoers, Opheliamachine is a challenging and unsettling experience.

Opheliamachine continues at the City Garage Theater through July 28. The City Garage is located at 2525 Michigan Avenue, Santa Monica. Evening performances are at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Matinees are Sundays at 4 p.m. For reservations, call (310) 453-9939. For online ticketing and further information, visit www.citygarage.org.

 

Spotlight

Laguna Playhouse Announces Ellen Richard as its Interim Executive Director

May 3, 2016…Laguna Beach, Calif…Laguna Playhouse Board of Directors announced today that, later this month, Ellen Richard will be joining Laguna Playhouse as its Interim Executive Director. The Playhouse announced late last year that it was undertaking a national search guided by Arts Consulting Group (ACG) for an Executive Director to succeed Karen Wood who had held this position for the past eight years.

Commenting on the appointment Joe Hanauer and Paul Singarella, Co-Chairmens of the Board of Directors, said “In the midst of our search we encountered this wonderful opportunity to engage Ellen while we continue to seek appropriate long-term leadership. To have found someone with the extraordinary qualifications that Ellen has is thrilling. She is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer at New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company where she was Managing Director. Ellen also has strong successes in supervising the construction of theatres in New York and also in San Francisco at the American Conservatory Theater, a rare and valuable skill set considering the contemplated major remodel and expansion of the Laguna Playhouse.” Laguna Playhouse Artistic Director Ann E. Wareham adds, “We are pleased and proud to have Ellen Richard, truly a rock-star in our field, join us as our interim Executive Director who will help guide the Playhouse during this transition.” Comments Ellen Richard, “I have quickly grown fond of Laguna Beach and the Playhouse. I embrace this extraordinary opportunity to join one of the country’s top regional theatres at this time in its remarkable 95-year history. I look forward to helping the Playhouse and working with their incredible Board of Trustees and Ann E. Wareham.”

ABOUT ELLEN RICHARD

Ellen Richard served as Executive Director of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco from 2010 through 2015.  During her tenure, Ms. Richard negotiated a deal to buy the Strand Theater in tech corridor of Mid-Market San Francisco, helped raise the $34,000 million to renovate and operate it and steered the design and construction for the project which opened in May of 2015. The complex featured two performance spaces and has won multiple awards.  She opened the 50 seat Costume Shop Theater, a 49-seat “black box” venue used for the company’s Master of Fine Arts students and for shows by other local companies.  Ms. Richard was also credited with expanding the company’s educational efforts, coming up with programs like the San Francisco Semester, which brings undergraduate acting students to ACT from around the world, and Stage Coach, a community theater mobile unit that reaches into diverse neighborhoods

She was also Executive Director of The Second Stage Theatre in New York City. During her tenure at Second Stage, which began in 2006 (through 2009), she was responsible for the purchase contract of the Helen Hayes Theatre, growth in subscription income of 48 percent, and growth in individual giving of 75 percent, as well as conceptualization of a highly successful gala format and “Second Generation,” a giving program through which donors enable deserving New York City youth to experience live theater. Under Ms. Richard’s leadership, Second Stage provided the initial home for the Broadway productions Everyday Rapture, Next to Normal, and The Little Dog Laughed.

From 1983 to 2005, Ms. Richard enjoyed a rich and varied career with Roundabout Theatre Company. The Roundabout that Ms. Richard joined was a small nonprofit theater company in bankruptcy. By the time she departed as Managing Director, Roundabout had become one of the country’s largest and most successful theater companies of its kind, with net assets in excess of $67 million dollars. Ms. Richard is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer, for Roundabout productions of Cabaret (1998), A View from the Bridge (1998), Side Man (1999), Nine (2003), Assassins (2004), and Glengarry Glen Ross (2005). As producer of more than 125 shows at Roundabout, she had direct supervision of all management and marketing functions. She created Roundabout’s “Theatre-PLUS” programs, which include singles, teachers, family, gay and lesbian, wine tasting, and the 7 p.m. “Early Curtain” series, all of which grew to represent more than 10 percent of Roundabout’s 40,000 subscribers.

As director of design and construction at Roundabout, Ms. Richard was responsible for more than $50 million of theater construction for 11 projects. She conceptualized the three permanent Roundabout stages — The Broadway venues of Studio 54 and the American Airlines Theatre, and the Off-Broadway venue The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre She directed the location search for Cabaret and oversaw the creation of the production’s environmental Kit Kat Klub. Prior to her tenure at Roundabout, Ms. Richard served as business manager of Westport Country Playhouse, theater manager for Stamford Center for the Arts, and business manager for Atlas Scenic Studio. She began her career working as a stagehand, sound designer, and scenic artist assistant.