Kimberly Gilbert is one of the most versatile, fearless and reliably thrilling actors in Washington. Whether she’s playing the spinster held hostage by her wicked mother in The Beauty Queen of Lenane or an everyone’s-a-little-bit-racist gentrifier in Clybourne Park,or a shellshocked survivor of an environmental apocalypse in Mr. Burns, or a Victorian woman receiving surprisingly fulfilling treatments for “hysteria” in In the Next Room, or The Vibrator Play, or any of a half-dozen other roles that spring readily to mind, she at worst honors her material. Far more often, she enhances it. Gilbert is reason enough to see a show all by herself. She’s more than earned a little forbearance if she has a passion project.
Which, as it happens, she does: The slender movement-based character study Enter Ophelia, distracted — which charts the decline of the 15-or-16-year-old girl from Hamlet whose self-absorbed boyfriend breaks up with her and accidentally kills her dad before she goes literally out of her tree and into the brook and drowns, which must be where the idiom originated — been kicking around Gilbert’s head for a long time. In 2005, she performed a version of it at the Black Cat nightclub as part of Taffety Punk Shakespeare anthology called And Then It Faster Rock’d. She made a video of that iteration in 2007.
Now she’s returned to refine the piece, wherein poor Ophelia’s fragmented psyche is given physical form: Gilbert shares the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop black box space with three other dancers in the same nondescript beige togs — Eleni Grove, Katie Murphy, and Erin White — and they’re all embodying Ophelia. (Amy Domingues is on stage, too, performing her mournful original score on cello.) The lines from Hamlet spoken to her by her lover, Prince Hamlet, her father, Polonius, her brother, Laertes and others are heard via a recorded collage assembled by Marcus Kyd, who directed the show with Gilbert and choreographer Erin F. Mitchell. Only once Ophelia unravels completely does Gilbert begin to speak for her. Most of the work of expressing her anguish and confusion falls to Mitchell, who eschews the athletic movements often seen in Synetic Theatre’s Shakespeare adaptations in favor of more languid gestures evoking disorientation and delirium. Chris Curtis’s lighting scheme is washed with green, adding a visual suggestion that something is rotten in the State of Denmark, and in the minds of more than one of its residents.
It’s a challenging piece and a brief one, performed in a hot venue for the reasonable price of $15. (Even Taffety Punk’s full-length shows, like their recent, sublime “Rulebraker Rep,” are priced affordably.) A Fringe show, in other words, in from if not in the level of craft on display, and whatever knee-jerk reaction that phrase elicits within you is probably a sound predictor of how you’ll find it. Because of the piece’s brevity, Taffety has invited a variety of dance companies to share the bill each night as an opening act.
Enter Ophelia, distracted is at the Capitol Hill Arts Center through June 28.
Erin White, Katie Murphy, Kimberly Gilbert, and Eleni Grove. Photo by Teresa Castracane.