What if Nabokov’s Lolita, Shakespeare’s Ophelia, and Fitzgerald’s Daisy Buchanan could break out of their male-ordained plot lines, and for the first time think for themselves and speak with their own voices? What if we could see them and hear from them as real, multi-dimensional human beings, rather than as symbols or objects of the problems, obsessions, and torments confronting the male characters in their stories? Having escaped from the printed page and unexpectedly coming face-to-face with each other, the three characters, played by Leah Artenian, Savannah Gilmore, and Sophia Brackenridge, come forth with warmth, laughter, joy and wit, as well as fear, anger, and frustration. In other words, they become human. Of course this show has a feminist point to make, but it doesn’t forget to be theatre. With never a dull moment, it tells a story that is sometimes surprising, sometimes poignant, and occasionally downright funny.
This is a devised theater piece, with script, blocking and stage business built from the ground up through a collaboration of the members of the company. Because of this, the actor-audience energy that is unique to live theater is heightened– the actors we see on the stage are among the collaborators, and the words and ideas we hear are those of the Company and not of some other author.
Leah Artenian is an explosive and compelling Dolores Haze (Lolita), who turns out to be someone very different from what we might expect. Ranging from passionate urgency to wry humor, Ms. Artenian reveals a young woman determined to be freed from the hopeless and empty life into which she has been written, and to reject the one-dimensional representation she has received in a story narrated by her abductor and assailant. This is a bold statement; Lolita’s presumed persona is so cemented in the popular culture that the term “Lolita” has become the dictionary definition of a particular type of person. Ms. Artenian bursts fearlessly through the stereotype and demands a fair hearing for the real Dolores Haze.
Sophia Brackenridge gives us an Ophelia whose very conception of herself has been, for five centuries, constrained within the precepts of the rigid patriarchal society of Danish nobility. Appropriately, Ophelia’s awakening is more cautious and restrained than Lolita’s. Ms. Brackenridge makes the transition beautifully, moving Ophelia from a state of despair eventually to a vibrant and exuberant defiance. Bringing Ophelia to life is not an easy task. She makes only five brief appearances in Shakespeare’s longest play, yet since the work’s inception, Ophelia has been the subject of intense study and debate in literary, theatrical, psychological and other disciplines. Without losing a sense of Ophelia’s noble birth and courtly upbringing, Ms. Brackenridge allows us a glimpse into the profound emotions and joyous liberation Ophelia might experience were she to realize she is not doomed to reenact her suicide eternally.
Savannah Gilmore deftly keeps us guessing about Daisy Buchanan. Daisy is the only one of the three characters to have reached the age of twenty, and Ms. Gilmore portrays her with a careful balance between the hopefulness of a young woman unexpectedly facing the opportunity to experience life on her own terms, and the cynicism of a jaded Louisville debutante who sees her role in life as defined and inescapable. Despite the momentousness of her off-the-page meeting with Lolita and Ophelia, Ms. Gilmore’s Daisy tries to remain outwardly unflappable. She exudes an easy southern charm, and as one would expect from a seasoned socialite in the era of Gatsby, her first instinct is to play hostess to her new acquaintances. Like Lolita, Daisy is represented in text only as described by a male narrator who is also a character in the story. Ms. Gilmore’s interpretation cuts through the filter of the narration but recognizes that the real Daisy would attempt to remain behind her own façade. Appropriately, Daisy is the slowest of the three characters to reveal her true feelings, and although Lolita and Ophelia emphatically prefer to resist a return to their texts, we are never entirely sure about Daisy.
Lolita, Ophelia, Daisy is an entertaining and thoughtful show with excellent performances. It’s a notable achievement by the talented members of the Moirai Theater Company.