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O’Shea utilizes Ophelia archetype in one-woman show

Tae Andrews | Friday, February 15, 2008

When senior Erin O’Shea takes the Philbin Studio Theatre stage tonight, all eyes will be on her and only her, which fits considering that “Watch Me” is a one-woman show.

In preparation for her FTT Honors Thesis Project, O’Shea spent the last year and half conducting research into the character of Ophelia from Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.” To this extent, she examined paintings, read scholarly articles and listened to music inspired by the story of Ophelia, and read plays and poetry which parallel the Ophelia story. Over the course of Shakespeare’s play, Ophelia goes mad and is later found dead.

The plot of “Watch Me” traces a young woman named Sammy Union who tries to deal with a stalker through therapy. For the purposes of “Watch Me,” O’Shea said she tried to adapt the Ophelia archetype onto a modern woman in her character Sammy Union.

“They are not the same person, but they may share many similar emotions,” she said. “The Ophelia archetype, in my opinion, is one of a victim. In ‘Hamlet,’ she is more of a pretty object than an actual person. The male characters display great amounts control over her. Ultimately, the various pressures and anxieties become too much.

“Granted, not all women share these circumstances,” she said, “but most of us understand what it is like to feel helpless or objectified at times. Some fill the role of victims, while some refuse to be victims and find the strength to persevere.”

“Watch Me” represents O’Shea’s inaugural effort at writing for the stage.

“It’s definitely been an interesting experience,” she said. “One thing I found repeatedly was that just because something looks good in print does not ensure it will sound equally good when read aloud. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone back and edited to make things more ‘actable.'”

Although her “all things Ophelia” approach gave her inspiration into the character, O’Shea said she still suffered from writer’s block, a common malady of freshman playwrights.

“I found a lot of quality material, but I had no real story,” O’Shea said. “I just had blocks of material.”

A discussion with a professor led her to ask herself, “Who’s telling the story and why?”

“From there, things really started to progress quickly,” she said. She also said that one of her most inspirational source materials was a book she read entitled “Reviving Ophelia” by Mary Pipher.

“Pipher is a psychiatrist, and in the book, she tells about the many experiences she has had with patients,” O’Shea said. “Essentially, she tries to explain that all girls share the same, or at least similar, issues – we’re all modern-day Ophelias in our own ways.”

“Reviving Ophelia,” combined with O’Shea’s discovery of a Marlene Dietrich picture, led her to think of a woman in therapy, which led to the therapy angle in her show. O’Shea chose the name Samantha – Sammy for short – because one of the meanings of the name is “listener,” and in “Watch Me,” the character receives phone calls from her stalker daily. “I chose the last name of Union because I felt that it would be another way to symbolically show the union between my modern character and Ophelia. Since a stalker is primarily known for stalking, or watching, I felt that ‘Watch Me’ was a fitting title.”

O’Shea also said she enjoyed the challenge of acting solo on stage, although she did find rehearsals “a bit lonely.”

“It is a totally different experience doing a one-person show than being in a cast with other actors,” she said. “However, the performances are just as exciting as they are in a typical multi-person show. One thing that I find tricky, though, is remembering what line comes next. When it’s just you up there, there’s no one to give you a cue.”

“Watch Me” is but the latest performance on a resume which paints a picture of an actress unwilling to stay away from the stage. Prior to “Watch Me,” O’Shea performed in the PEMCo Musical Revue during her sophomore and junior years, in addition to taking roles in “Oregon Trail,” “Family Entertainment” and “Rage for the Stage” with the St. Edward’s Hall Players. Last fall, O’Shea performed “A Bright Room Called Day” and has a role in the upcoming production of “Dr. Faustus” at the DPAC. She also participated in Summer Shakespeare at Notre Dame during this past summer.

Like her friend and fellow senior Nate Grams, whose show “The Flight” fills out the other half of tonight’s twin bill, O’Shea intends on pursuing a career in theater and has applied and auditioned for graduate schools, although she will not know if she has been admitted until mid-March.

“Whatever happens will definitely be interesting,” she said, “but I trust that everything will work out for the best.”

Contact Tae Andrews at tandrew1@nd.edu.