The Take Away:
Interesting art instillation.
Brave and emotional performance.
Needs to be tightened to avoid emotional exhaustion.

In My Pockets

I’ve played Ophelia quite a few times. I have never seen a Mz. Initiative show, and do not know any of the artists involved, but I am a champion of personal solo pieces and new work. Also, I was not in a great mood, but ready to enjoy some theatre.

I also want to say that I feel torn while writing this. I love when folks throw themselves into roles with abandon and passion and I always want the best for them. That being said, personal and brave storytelling does not always lead to driven or riveting theater. Which is tricky, right? It’s hard for devisers to find the balance between structure and freedom. 


Jess Otterbine as Lavinia (who also wrote the piece) and Ian Agnew (playing a Nightingale/the toxic masculine body) are trapped in a room with nothing but each other, a phone, and a bunch of plants because Lavinia loves botany.  Lavinia is angry and trapped and somebody keeps calling her, which is weird. It’s a cool setup. 

Unfortunately the piece falls into kind of disconnection that devised/new works usually fall into. When moments aren’t filled between interpretive movement and text, we (devisers) can often fail to give our words and movements meaning. The piece is messy (which is fun) and Otterbine moves with abandon, falling to her knees and on her back quite a bit (this made me nervous with no fight choreographer credited). However, because of the messiness, a 20 minute intermission was needed to reset the stage for Ophelia, which made an already long night longer. Ravished was a complete piece, so to travel through that journey and then have 20 minutes to kill before beginning another was too much, even though I see the connection between the stories. 

I love that we, as a society, have become so infatuated with these Shakespearean heroines who don’t seem to have any agency. Lavinia (the subject of Ravished) and Ophelia (the subject of, well, Ophelia) are our favorite sad Shakespeare characters, right? One is a virgin who is silenced and crushed by literally having her tongue cut out, and the other is destroyed by the men in her life because she is the most pure person onstage.


Otterbine (again, the writer performer) takes her second highly emotional subject with nothing more than a baby pool and a large mirror. Ophelia is a much stronger piece and in another iteration, the best ideas from Ravished could be rolled into Ophelia. The tone is stronger and Otterbine appears more at ease with the material. It imagines Ophelia as a brilliant writer who was in on the King’s murder and feigned her madness to trick Claudius and Gertrude before committing suicide as an honorable act.  This idea combines a lot of  story with a lot of big emotions and I think that Ophelia would be better served by moving all of the action into the present, as making it a memory piece steals some of the action.

Ophelia’s madness is heartbreaking because those who could help her just watch her get swallowed up and spit out. Otterbine forces us to reflect on our passive role as Ophelia turns to the audience for help, in the most emotionally poignant moment of the evening. But her fate is sealed, and we do nothing but watch and pity as she weeps and pleads.

Both pieces explore a woman gaining or losing her voice, and death is the only option in the end, and they are the beginnings of a really powerful statement about our cultural obsession with watching women cry. (Seriously. Watch clips from Oscar nominated performances, it’s embarrassing),

Ravished and Ophelia have the potential to become one really great work with tightening and shaping. The visuals and performance were inspiring, but two extremely emotional solo pieces with complete arcs by the same performer in one night is a lot on both a  performer and an audience. I am interested in the work Mz Initiative is doing and I hope they continue to produce this kind of work boldly.

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