Theater archives

Better Off Dead: [The] Ophelia Landscape


In her mid-’90s book Reviving Ophelia, therapist Mary Pipher tried to help the Shakespearean waif’s modern-day counterparts survive their adolescence. But judging by director Naum Panovski’s new resuscitation—[The] Ophelia Landscape, a wide-eyed dance-theater take on the suicidal damsel’s legacy—Ophelia was better off un-revived.

Attempting to channel Hamlet’s sweetheart’s story into a reflection on repressive societies, Panovski fuses Shakespeare’s lines with rewrites such as Rimbaud’s “Ophelia” and Heiner Müller’s Hamletmachine. Eight white-faced, corseted ingénues—a mass Ophelia—writhe earnestly, gazing in terror around the (mostly empty) stage. Two guys turn Hamlet‘s men authoritarian: Instead of dotty advice, Polonius delivers an ominous interrogation; the great Dane sends an Ophelia or two to the proverbial nunnery. Guest actors address us as enormous projections—sometimes intoning snippets from the Hamlet adaptations, sometimes spouting non sequiturs.

But clichéd choreography and a shapeless text drain any political clarity from Panovski’s concoction; even Müller’s Ophelia, a bloodthirsty postcolonial avenger, is a pale sadsack unmoored from time and place. Cheesy ambient sounds—wings flapping, voices demanding “revenge”—make the mood more Da Vinci Code than cool critique. Watching the Ophelias perform slow calisthenics—they weep, pull their hair, and slump fetally on the floor—is sort of like observing a bunch of hopefuls prepare auditions, for a ponderous production of Hamlet you’d probably skip.