"12 Ophelias" Presented March 6-10 and 12-14 at CSU, Chico

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In CSU, Chico's first theatre production of the new year — Caridad Svich’s “12 Ophelias, A Play With Broken Songs” —  Shakespeare's Ophelia rises up out of the water and finds herself in a neo-Elizabethan Appalachian setting where Gertrude runs a brothel, Hamlet is called "Rude Boy," and nothing is what it seems.

“12 Ophelias” will be presented in an extended run in Wismer Theatre, an intimate “black box” theatre located inside Chico State’s Performing Arts Center. Performances take place March 6-9 at 7:30 p.m., March 10 at 2 p.m., and March 12-14 at 7:30 p.m.

In a nutshell “12  Ophelias” asks the question, how is it possible to break old cycles and start afresh when the past so completely permeates your life?

Combining original music with poetic and colloquial language, “12 Ophelias” is a theatre song-poem about being broken by society and love and finding yourself again.

“’12 Ophelias’ is a story about all of us who have been broken by love and are trying to find a way to heal, put our lives back together and move on, instead of remaining stuck in an endless cycle of remorse, recrimination and revenge,” said Director William Johnson, Chair of the Department of Music and Theatre.

The back-story of “12 Ophelias” is Shakespeare's “Hamlet.” Ophelia and Hamlet are very much in love, but because he has sworn to avenge the death of his father at the hands of his uncle, Claudius the King, he pretends to go crazy as a device to trick Claudius into an admission of his guilt.  

Ophelia is sucked into the intrigue and plotting, torn between her love for Hamlet and her duty to her father, Polonius, the king's chief advisor. Ophelia tries to discover what's wrong with Hamlet on behalf of Polonius and Claudius. Hamlet, enraged, turns on Ophelia, cursing and damning her and all womankind. In abject grief over Hamlet's rejection and his murder of her father, Ophelia goes truly mad and drowns herself.

Fast-forward 400 years. Ophelia rises from a creek in backwoods Appalachia, cold, empty of detailed memory but full of want. She is pulled out of the water by the need to find and rejoin herself with "Rude Boy" who lives here with his mother, Gertrude, the proprietor of a brothel.

The place she has found herself, however, is not what it seems. This Appalachian land is a metaphysical backwoods where those who are broken by love return to seek the love that turned sour and make themselves whole again.  

“We find it populated in our story by all the beings from the play ‘Hamlet’ who exist in a limbo like purgatory of unresolved emotion, need, and denial.”

Johnson said the play touches on a subject that everyone should be able to easily identify with.

“There is not one of us out there who has not given our heart to someone or something and then had it handed back to us by our beloved, knifed through and discarded, with no seeming sense or reason. We have been left baffled, lost, devastated and paralyzed, unable to go back, unable to move on.”

Despite the dire sounding story, “12 Ophelias” is ultimately a tale of redemption, resurrection, and a return to life, noted Johnson.  

“It is a play on a serious theme told through compelling characters, beautiful language, and wonderful bluegrass/folk songs. There's lots of dancing, fighting and erotic playfulness." 

CSU, Chico’s production will star Erin Duffey as “Ophelia” and Murphy Mayer as “Rude Boy.” Other actors in the production include Chelsea Haskell, Eric Wilhite, Zachary Hansen, Kaylyn Dowd, and Veronica Hodur. A “Chorus of Ophelias” will be played by Taylor Magpuri, Heather Osteraa, Lauren Sutton-Beattie, Megan Aube, and Lacey Henderson.

The show will feature original music by Marcel Daguerre performed by Chico's Railflowers and othr local musicians. Set design is by Daniel Schindler, faculty member in the Department of Music and Theatre, and costume design is by costume shop staff member Ruth Palmerlee.

“12 Ohelias” author Caridad Svich is an American playwright-lyricist-translator and editor. She was the recipient of New Dramatists’ 2007 Whitfield Cook Prize for New Writing for her play “Lucinda Caval,” and the 2003 National Latino Playwriting Award for “Magnificent Waste.” She has also received a Harvard University Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study Bunting fellowship, a TCG/Pew National Theatre Artist Grant, and has been short-listed twice for the PEN USA-West Award in Drama.

“12 Ophelias” contains adult themes and language and is not appropriate for children. Advance tickets, at $15 adults, $13 senior citizens, and $6 students and children, are available at the University Box Office (898-6333). Add $2 for tickets purchased at the door. For disability-related seating accommodations, please call 898-6333.