Based on a play by Eugene O'Neill, Before Breakfast studies the emotional meltdown of an alcoholic woman in the early morning hours. As she roams through her 1920s apartment, she recounts the tale of a diastrous love affair which has led her to the bottle and despair. The social background of the decade---especially the unwillingness of her paramour and his coterie to accept someone from a different economic and ethnic class---suffuses the romantic collapse. The accessible Pucciniesque score permits the heroine Charlotte (Vanessa Rosa) to express post-traumatic feelings which cascade from disbelief to anger to grief for her lost child to rage at social prejudice and to final collapse. Blades's direction permits the emotional arc of the melodrama to unfold smoothly with growing intensity as Charlotte's hopes and rationalizations crash. Rosa provides a solid musical interpretation of the role with a rich, vibrant, modulated voice matching the emotional arc, but her acting skills await further maturation.
More cerebral in construction, Ophelia Forever studies Ophelia from different pyschological angles. The one Ophelia of Shakespeare is now split into Violated Saint (Nicole Cascione), Mad Mermaid (Lisa Perry), and Faithful Seductress (Elizabeth Kerstein). The stark, color-coded costumes visually separate the chaste Ophelia, the sprightly Ophelia, and the tempting Ophelia. The Wagnerian singing by the three principals clearly expresses the emotional palette specific to each one. The frequent, tightly harmonized trios are one of the evening's highlights. Blades's careful ensemble direction of the piece gives it a steely choreography. One haunting touch is the occasional appearance of a silent, sepulchral Hamlet (Nicholas Dogas) attracting the Ophelias to their watery grave but providing no reason, no explanation, no solace. The conceptual brio and psychological symmetries of this serialist score represent one of its limits; its construction can be admired but there is little emotional interest generated in the synchronized water-ballet demise of our subdivided heroine.