By Mehr Gunawardena
Eliza Martin’s “O” examines how the acting world views and treats women. This feminist piece taps into women’s defiance, and their reluctance to express it out of fear that the consequences wouldn’t be worth it and their rebellion wouldn’t make a difference.
The show begins with the scene preceding Ophelia’s death. Silent and delicate, she decorates her surroundings with flowers, underscored by romantic music. She steps into a wooden bucket in which she is meant to drown herself. But the performance is interrupted when the actress yells out in pain; the hot water had burned her foot. Leigh, the actress, exchanges words with the male director, and they take a break.
Leigh has been preparing for this role, “floating down rivers covered in flowers all [her] life.” She describes the phases of an actress’s career: the ingénue (her current phase), the wife and mother, and finally the crone. She describes the clichés that actresses are expected to perform: for example, the four stages of lovemaking, which made the audience snicker with glee. Then she describes crying on stage – the audience cackled at this. She “reserves crying for madness, heartbreak, beatings and death,” often induced by real triggering memories. She elicits tears by remembering an Ikea commercial, in which a lamp was abandoned at the curb by its owners. Her eyes well up and redden; she seems genuinely devastated. But just as quickly, she composes herself and continues on as if nothing had happened. Her quick transition is astonishing.
She wonders aloud where this actress’s career cycle will eventually lead. Contemplating her funeral, she considers her life. She erupts in anger and frustration with colleagues who limit her and shoot down her ideas. As Ophelia, she tried ripping up a book, but was told by the director that the gesture was “too aggressive” and not feminine enough. She rants that she will “savagely sew pockets into our dresses” and use her “heels to pick the lock to freedom!” She is energized by the possibility of acting freely and authentically, instead of being limited by men’s ideas of how women should act. What if women were typically portrayed as strong? How would that change an actress’s career cycle?
But she is called back to reality by her director. Her break is over, and she must finish her final scene, Ophelia’s death. The play ends as she, playing Ophelia, defiantly drops her flowers and euphorically walks to her death.
Written and Performed by Eliza Martin
Nov. 4 at 6pm
Director: Rebecca Ballarin
Lighting Design: Steph Raposo
Sound Design: Nick Potter
Stage Manager: Lucy McPhee
Show Image by Neil Silcox, courtesy of the production
United Solo 2018
410 West 42nd Street
New York City
MEHR GUNAWARDENA is a writer from Sri Lanka who pursued her education and ambition in the United States. During her time at Clark University, she began experimenting with form and structure to make her writing as accessible as possible to all readers, while keeping true to her voice. She enjoys writing poetry and other fictional pieces with political and societal nuances, and is therefore drawn towards art with similar intentions.