"You're just too true to be good," echoes the raspy, inviting, musical stylings of Lauren LoPiccolo. A delightful spin on The Four Seasons "Can't Take My Eyes Off You", this lyric echoes into a chamber of rainbow candies, floral curtains, and flighty femmes. It sets the tone for this sugar high, love low fix where names can be reclaimed, the past can be rewritten, and old wounds can reemerge only to be glazed over in a sugary, sticky syrup. Welcome to the wonderful world of Caridad Svich's 12 Ophelias (a play with broken songs).
The intimate space of The Martin typically feels welcoming and open, but it's been transformed under the vision of director/co-founder of The Martin, Whitney Lamora, to feel trippy, claustrophobic, and inhibiting. Seated in the round, audience members immediately feel weaved into the action, with candy munching encouraged and every inch of this tight space being game for performance. We feel as trapped as Ophelia, and yearn for her need to escape. But when the performance begins, you find yourself longing for more than the seventy minutes afforded to see this sight be beheld.
In this Alice in Wonderland meets Willy Wonka with a dash of 2000s' hip teenager's bedroom thrown in for good measure aesthetic, Ophelia (Winter Sherrod) returns post-drowning to a world she thought she knew. Sherrod enters cascading in a sapphire sheath, an ocean of strength and resilience. She isn't in mourning of her life, but renewed. Her veil and ever flowing gown represent a would be bride or as she proclaims, a mermaid. Poetic verses pour out of her mouth like fine jewels and she graces the stage with the airs of a woman not exactly scorned, but wiser, mature, and no longer phased by past mistakes. Or so it seems...
As her name is now considered a curse, Ophelia is hell bent on reclaiming her narrative. "Wretched Ophelia will be no more", she defiantly declares. Her mission is aided and complicated by some familiar faces. Teagan Walsh-Davis and Caitlin Connor as R and G, forever bound by a set of twinkly lights, wander in and out providing commentary on the course of events while sucking on lollies and feverishly pouring back buckets of popcorn. Jessamyn Fitzpatrick plays a coldly correct Gertrude, adorned with fake diamonds aka Ring Pops as the proud madame of a brothel. Mina (Marjorie Muller) proves a resourceful ally, reminding O how all of them are addicted to sucking on chemical love until they can get a taste of the natural stuff---marriage.
It's not an easy homecoming for O, but she's able to cast a spell on everyone of why her return is necessary. The one most enraptured and that could unspool all her progress is one Rude Boy erm Fuck Boy (Lora Miller), better known to us as Hamlet. From their first reintroduction, the two serve up a seduction of the best kind: playful, distant, and tempting, albeit wrong. When returning from death, O's first instinct is of course to get laid, and what better way to fulfill that need coupled with the desire to show off her new self then to sex the ex, drop him, and be done? In the process however, O finds herself getting trapped in the man's clutches that doomed her fate before.
While O made clear boundaries with RB to play with him with the promise of nothing more, RB has other plans in mind. His princely act hasn't disappeared and he's as dishonest as he is entitled. RB's arrogant nature is amusing to watch, and even more enjoyable when his inconsistencies are pointed out in wrap sessions with his sidekick, H (Sarah Bacinich). Svich's play cleverly takes everything acclaimed about what is considered one of the greatest stage roles of all time and instead reveals the shallow, whiny, sad boi in all his glory. It's further brought to life by an incredible performance by Miller, who pulls off his boyish charm while still wearing his list of flaws as long as his sheer, white cape with a shit grin.
As tight knit as O and RB's seduction is, their strip down of each other's true nature gives it a run for its money. RB returns at his Stanley Kowalski finest guzzling a La Croix and slamming it down to awaken a sleeping O like she is the beauty to his beast. RB proceeds to unload a list of "needs" including a kiss, sweet things from her mouth, and an explanation from O of why he suddenly cares for her. O initially has the upper hand poking holes in each of his flimsy deflections, sending the darts in her direction back to their intended target. She puts up not only a wall, but a mirror for him to redirect all his problems. Her mastery is best summarized from an earlier quote: "Stick me with 100 branches, I’ll heal."
Rude Boy lives up to his name, but decides to try on another for size. He taunts her that he can be Hamlet, and like any playboy would, dusts off an oldie enticing her with past, broken promises. RB and O speak into existence Shakespeare's dialogue and relive it in this world. RB's fake admiration is pleasureful, yet painful twisting mischievously like a knife against O's forceful coldness that slyly melts away from igniting old memories. The two live up to their names and what is expected of them, and it cannot be overstated how chilling it is to watch. To see this upside down version of Hamlet bring back material it deliberately diverted away from for the purpose of making these characters remember who they were is nothing short of genius.
12 Ophelias shows that the unwrapping of the treat is part of the thrill. The anticipation, foreplay, and promise of pleasure draws you in, and as its marketing guarantees, leaves you salivating for more. It forces us to take O's tale with us, haunted by how much we see of ourselves in her and left to reckon with our own indulgences, stories, and curses.