note: entire contents copyright 2007 by Beverly Creasey
If you’re a Shakespeare fan, you can rejoice. Not only is Boston full of Shakespeare productions, right now you can see two new plays based on the Bard: Robert Brustein’s "The English Channel" (reviewed previously on Theater Mirror) and Steven Berkoff’s "The Secret Love Life of Ophelia" (at the Boston Playwrights Theatre thru Sept. 30th). Both are directed by Wesley Savick.
Writers seem to be fascinated by "Hamlet" in particular: (You may recall Lee Blessing’s odd "Fortinbras" or Tom Stoppard’s delightful "Rosencrance And Guildenstern Are Dead") Berkoff focuses his play on what’s happening offstage ---when Ophelia isn’t before the audience with Hamlet or embroiled in court politics with her father and brother.
Berkoff’s two character Elizabethan version of A. R. Gurney’s "Love Letters" has the couple exchanging torrid billets doux which fuel their erotic fantasies. Berkoff fills the secret letters with sexual metaphors (like “dipping [his] quill in [Ophelia’s] inkpot”) which seem awfully silly to 21st century ears but may have hit the spot in the 16th century. From time to time, Berkoff punctuates the letter writing with news from the play: Polonius has intercepted the letters…or Polonius has been dispatched by Hamlet behind the arras. Except for the disturbing exposition from the other play, it’s a lot of talk.
Simple elegance marks the Nora Theatre production. Ryan McGettigan’s gorgeous, elevated wooden oval rings a pond which will become Ophelia’s grave. Erin F. Moulton dances light off the water as the two circle round the walkway. Director Wesley Savick has the actors pass by but never directly address each other, making us crave a physical connection.
Stacy Fischer plays Ophelia as a temptress nymph (dressed in gossamer white with soft, green apron dress by Jacqueline Dalley), desirous of the status which comes with dating a Prince. Aaron Pitre plays Hamlet as a hot blooded youth, reserving any melancholy for the scenes in the Shakespeare play. Berkoff’s Raison d’Etre with "The Secret Love Life of Ophelia" is a nifty explanation of Hamlet’s famous ill treatment of the girl.
Berkoff’s play brings to mind the heartbreaking love scene in "Bent", when the two men caress each other using words alone, as they are not permitted to touch. What you take away from both that play and this is the enduring power of words.