Based on Hamlet by William Shakespeare; Adapted, Performed, and Directed by Ji-Young Choi
Produced by Young Company
Part of the 2016 New York International Fringe Festival
Off Off Broadway, Solo Show
Runs through 8.20.16
VENUE #4: Abrazo Interno at the Clemente, 107 Suffolk Street
by Amy Gijsbers van Wijk on 8.21.16
Ji-Young Choi in While Ophelia's Korean Drum Weeps. Photo by Sun-Young Choi.
BOTTOM LINE: While Ophelia’s Korean Drum Weeps is a poetic, emotional solo show journey that attempts to shed light on Ophelia’s past, present, and given circumstances.
I’ve always loved Hamlet, but felt that Ophelia and Gertrude got the short end of the stick—I wanted to know more about their side of things. So I find the concept of While Ophelia’s Korean Drum Weeps exciting. This solo show, crafted wholly by performer Ji-Young Choi, begins with Choi embodying Ophelia, sharing several memories from her early life. While the story is adapted for Choi’s version, it sticks largely to the pre-existing plot that Shakespeare crafted, but deals only in broad strokes. I'd recommend reading up on the plot of Hamlet if you or your attending friends are unfamiliar, as the major events aren't mentioned in enough detail. And they also don’t feel terribly important.
Choi’s performance as Ophelia is deeply compelling. I was not surprised to see Columbia University training listed in her bio, as her performance is emotive, present, and really connected me to the events of our protagonist’s life. However, what would otherwise be a solid narrative thread gets a bit tangled in the sticky part—where the fiction of Choi’s adaptation meets the “fact” of Shakespeare’s original.
The play weaves in and out of Ophelia’s childhood memories, some made up by Choi (such as Ophelia’s mother leaving to become a dancer), while others sticking to some truths (Hamlet seeing things, as it were). Because of this blend, it isn't always clear where in time we stand with Ophelia. Does the audience progress through time with her? Is she telling us this story many years later? Choi’s deep connection to the character allowed me to enjoy the scenes, but I couldn’t help wondering what the overall driving force was, and where the character was ultimately heading. Additionally, certain changes from Hamlet make it difficult to pin down which world we're in. For example, Laertes is nowhere to be found, yet Gertrude and Claudius are mentioned, despite there being no scenes in Hamlet between Ophelia and these characters.
The most interesting aspects of Choi’s adaptation are the elements that reveal Ophelia in a different light: for example, we see her struggling to forgive Hamlet after a particularly trying time, or to reconcile her feelings about her mother. And let me not forget my favorite part of the piece: watching Ophelia play her Korean drum. The performance Choi gives—especially when playing the drum in silence— is striking. I wanted nothing more than to see Ophelia tell us more about her relationship with the drum and music.
Choi has staged the play with a minimalist hand, and the mostly-bare stage serves as a compelling world in which to hear Ophelia’s story and witness events. However, the deft eye of the director (also Choi) is not so clean when it comes to technical elements of the play. Background music often transitions in and out in a slightly jarring way, and at times it is difficult to hear the performer. In addition, the music sometimes undercuts or prematurely reveals the emotional throughline of a scene—overly romantic music swelling during a transition into a scene with Ophelia and Hamlet, for example. I would have much preferred to see the drum utilized more, even in transition, for it was when I heard Ophelia play the Korean drum that I found myself most alive, and in the same world, as Choi’s Ophelia.
(While Ophelia's Korean Drum Weeps plays at VENUE #4: Abrazo Interno at the Clemente, 107 Suffolk Street, through August 20, 2016. The running time is 50 minutes. Performances are Mon 8/15 at 5:15; Tue 8/16 at 7; Thu 8/18 at 3:30; Fri 8/19 at 7; and Sat 8/20 at 1. There is no late seating at FringeNYC. Tickets are $18 and are available at fringenyc.org.)
While Ophelia's Korean Drum Weeps is written, performed, and directed by Ji-Young Choi, based on Hamlet by William Shakespeare.