The Bard gone mad
Oh-Feel-Ya delves into the mind of a man who morphs into Shakespearean women
Chicago is a dark place, says actor and dancer Adam Whitney. Its winters are long and cold, and its colossal buildings are so high they eclipse even the summer sun. And the people are icy too, never looking fellow passers-by in the eye as they walk down the streets.
As a theater student living in Chicago, Whitney had become disheartened. Out of his depression came a play—Oh-Feel-Ya—that will be performed by Millennium Performing Arts June 7-8 for the first time, four years after its genesis.
“The idea came to me after I had a mental breakdown,” Whitney says. “I was sitting in my flat in Chicago and started to write and out came this demented, true-to-life [story].”
Whitney plays a mentally disturbed character who has 18 different personalities and is locked in an insane asylum. Throughout the performance, Whitney assumes the personas of five different women from Shakespearean plays—hence the production’s title.
“Every time something gets too intense, he wants to detach and go into those Shakespearean women,” Whitney says of his character.
Why Shakespearean women?
“Nobody’s ever done it,” he says. “Nobody’s come up with the idea of men playing Shakespearean women.”
Not recently, anyway, and perhaps not in such an experimental way. Young boys played women on the Elizabethan stage before 1600, Whitney points out, and more recently, actors such as Lawrence Olivier have played female Shakespearean roles. But Oh-Feel-Ya is hardly straight Shakespeare.
“I love Shakespeare and I wanted a different outlook,” Whitney says. “Everybody does Shakespeare so traditionally. … [Oh-Feel-Ya] has a lot of great stories from my life. [It portrays] how hate crimes come into [the character’s] life.”
Despite its grave themes, Oh-Feel-Ya is billed as a comedy—a very dark comedy. The territory of dark satire is not unfamiliar to Whitney, whose last work of this kind was titled How Do You Like Them Apples, a play featuring a gay Adam and an Eve who longs to escape the Garden of Eden and become a lounge singer.
The play is also something that Millennium’s director and founder, Onnoleigh Sweetman, eagerly embraced. Sweetman came to Reno three years ago from Las Vegas and fell in love with Reno’s arts and culture scene.
“The place was just exploding with arts, and it was just mesmerizing,” she says.
Sweetman started up Millennium, a company that broadens the definition of “theater” to include song, art and dance—even club dancing with poi and glow sticks.
“I find that every art is, in a way, theater,” she says. “I feel that actors make the best dancers, artists [and] musicians, because they’re into the characters and more exploratory with them. My vision was to take different kinds of art that aren’t usually showcased [and incorporate them into theater].”
Oh-Feel-Ya, for instance, is performed to live drumming on various types of drum sets. And for Millennium’s next production, Sweetman will use photographs and a trapeze as props. Sweetman says that she didn’t hesitate to take on Whitney’s somewhat unorthodox project as Millennium’s first major production.
“I kind of like to shock people,” she says.
As does Whitney.
"[Oh-Feel-Ya] makes you want to take a shower afterward," he says. "You don’t know what just happened to you."