Review: O Fallen One, A Captivating Devised Exploration of Ophelia

O Fallen One

Chris Hull as Henry/Hamlet and Megan Ruble as Lia/Ophelia

O, Fallen One is the initial concept workshop of a devised play that combines stylized scenes with fragmented language, movement, dance, and other devices to create a unique artistic experience. The more theatrical sequences are interspersed with traditional dialogue scenes that tell the story of a modern day Ophelia (Megan Ruble) who, as in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, is dumped by a boyfriend (Chris Hull), goes into a depression, and takes to the water to drown.

In this original piece, she’s a high school girl named Lia who lands in the gym’s pool, but rather than descend to a muddy death like her predecessor, she’s pulled from the water and committed to a psych ward for further evaluation. There, a patronizing nurse (Amanda Carson), a concerned teacher (Samantha Kellie), and an emphatic but ineffective doctor (Galen Sato), struggle to help Ophelia while confronting their own shortcomings. 

To them she speaks in riddles, reciting passages from Hamlet in response to all of their questions – but she doesn’t just quote Ophelia’s words. They are interwoven with those of the other characters and bound together in a tangled orderliness that belies their seemingly random pattern. We don’t know for sure if it is her imagination creating an alternate reality or if it is simply a haven for her to escape the anxiety of a troubled teen’s mind.

Gail, her teacher, explains that kids are like social cannibals and can be quite cruel in their treatment of each other. Is that what happened to Ophelia? Or is her suicide attempt related to the death of her father four months ago, which now leaves her alone in the world since her mother died when she was young.

It is Ophelia’s statement that “with open eyes she sees the repetition” that struck me as very telling. She goes on to say that she “wishes the worlds of eyes wide shut and eyes wide open would match,” but of course they cannot, and here is where the deconstruction becomes really interesting. Pieces of the puzzle emerge in dance, in shadow work, and in the highly stylized forms seen in the beginning of the play, that take the audience deeper into Ophelia’s psyche.

The Fringe debut of this play is an hour long and just beginning to sort out what it will eventually become. I think that, as it continues to develop, an exciting texture of layers will unfold. Director Jaymie Bellous is on an interesting track with Sinan Zafar’s writing, though I’d look to enhance Ophelia’s journey rather than place so much emphasis on the medical staff. There’s little to be discovered there that hasn’t been seen before unless they are used as metaphors to somehow fill out the workings of Ophelia’s mind. A movement-inspired sequence near the end of the play does this very thing and it is quite effective. It also keeps the pacing from lagging as happens periodically in the dialogue.

I find this piece to be extremely appealing, with Ruble’s Ophelia a vulnerable creation that will only become richer as she continues to explore her flaws. An abstraction of sorts, each person who views the work is sure to come away with different ideas about what it means. Worlds converging, the fragility of the human spirit, and the challenges of transitioning into a young woman are a few of the themes that immediately become apparent. The choice to make the ending ambiguous may not satisfy every taste but worked for me in this first outing. A nice addition to the sound design is the electronic music of Australian band Faux Pas.

Ellen Dostal
Shakespeare in LA

O Fallen One

O, Fallen One
Now through June 29, 2013
The Underground Theatre at the Hollywood Fringe Festival
1312 North Wilton Place, Hollywood, CA 90028
Tickets: http://hff13.org/1378

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