UT Theatre & Dance's 12 Ophelias (a play with broken songs)

In a work more poetry than story, playwright Caridad Svich has drowned Ophelia resurface, freed from Hamlet's shadow

Elizabeth George (l) as Ophelia and Tanner Hudson as Rude Boy (Photo by Lawrence Peart)

Ophelia is a tantalizing character for a modern playwright to revisit. She follows all the rules, but Hamlet's doomed girlfriend really gets the short end of the stick in Shakespeare's grand tragedy. Arguably the original manic pixie dream girl, Ophelia goes mad after Hamlet's betrayal and her father's death, then drowns in a convenient stream. The boys around her feel just terrible about it.

The University of Texas' Department of Theatre & Dance is producing playwright Caridad Svich's take on the character with 12 Ophelias (a play with broken songs). Though it premiered over a decade ago, the play has new resonance in a year when women worldwide are seeking a reckoning of their power via #MeToo and other movements. Under Jess Shoemaker's direction, the show is a moving, mysterious production that frees Ophelia at last from Hamlet's shadow.

The play opens with the first of many beautiful and memorable songs from sound designer and composer Carolina Perez, and then, with a gasp, Ophelia rises from the water. The world she floats up to both is and isn't like the one we know from Hamlet. Delena Bradley's ingenious costumes, with their Elizabethan/punk/nature vibe, explain better than words can that there's a lot going on here.

Svich's plays aren't easy to synopsize. They're more poetry in action than straightforward storytelling. As someone watching, you really have to just let the lines wash over you like the water in the pools onstage here (scenic design by Chris Conard) and trust that you, too, will float to the surface.

Something that clearly emerges is the force of Elizabeth George's turn as Ophelia. She's been wronged, but oh, how beautiful it is to see a woman give her own suffering a nod but refuse to let it drown her. It's in the same family as Chanel Miller's victim statement when she was known only as Emily Doe, and the power of seeing her present herself unapologetically to the world now.

The crimes against this Ophelia aren't as clear cut, though. Known here as Rude Boy, Hamlet has his own work to do to repair himself. Tanner Hudson is fascinating to watch in the role, especially as he literally wrestles with H (Miguel Ángel Lozano II), aka Horatio. The two boys can't just say what they feel for each other or anything else; instead, they have to pummel each other until they can't say anything at all.

UT's 12 Ophelias is a good production with exceptional design. The nature of the script means it may not compute for audiences who prefer more literal, plot-centered theatre. For those who stick with it, though, there is beauty lurking between the lines.

12 Ophelias (a play with broken songs)

Oscar G. Brockett Theatre, 300 E. 23rd, UT campus
Through Oct. 13
Running time: 1 hr., 25 min.

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UT Department of Theatre & Dance, Caridad Svich, Jess Shoemaker, Chris Conard, Elizabeth George, Tanner Hudson, Carolina Perez, Delena Bradley, Miguel Ángel Lozano II, Chanel Miller, #MeToo

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