A few times on this blog I’ve mentioned my faculty mentor from Wilkes University, Juanita Rockwell. Today I want to treat you to a review of one of her plays, Dead for a Ducat, which she so kindly allowed me to read during my MFA semester. Though the version I read was not her final draft, it was still a thoughtful, moving piece of playwriting. I am constantly amazed by Juanita; by her talent, her intelligence, her theatrical work, and her ability to push me toward becoming the playwright I actually want to be. Juanita has agreed to allow me to interview her, so I’ll get on that quickly (I know; I already missed having an interview for January!). For now, I hope you enjoy my thoughts on one of her beautiful plays.
Juanita Rockwell’s Dead for a Ducat explores the cycle of life repeating itself after death, in a similar vein to Caridad Svich’s Wreckage or Twelve Ophelias. In Dead for a Ducat, my analysis focuses on Wet One, listed in Rockwell’s character descriptions as “a dead ringer for Ophelia, drowned and buried a few days earlier.” Corpses and graves litter the opening scene, where a gravedigger holds conversation with the dead and reveals that the world is much as it was before and probably always will be.
Surrounded by doubles for Hamlet (“Sonny”), Laertes (“Buddy”), and Gertrude (“Lady”), Wet One faces similar relational dynamics as Shakespeare’s Ophelia. Indeed, she is even more ensconced within the group-think, so that her voice blends with theirs as they start and finish one another’s thoughts, explaining how things came to pass and twisting Shakespeare’s words into the semblance of the same story.
This play is really about the gravedigger who discovers them, but Wet One’s voice is vital in identifying the reasons she (or Ophelia) ended up there among the graves with her compatriots. “My new bouquet begins with Psyilocybin,” she says, “swimming in visions of what never was but might well be, if we had the strength of faith. Then I’ll take Poppy for oblivion, Belladonna for deception, and a Lotus rising out of the mud” (Rockwell 12-13).
The play is a cautionary tale in which Ophelia is recognized not only as the girl who drowned, but also as one who acknowledges the failings that brought her there, just like Don Nigro’s (Dead Men’s Fingers) and Svich’s Ophelias. And like Svich’s Ophelia, Rockwell’s Wet One is an agent in identifying the deadly cycle destined to be repeated: “I see it like a play I’ve seen too many times, where I know every twist of the plot by heart…” (Rockwell 36). Wet One, this Ophelia, is a strong voice in a chorus of cautions. While she is unable to escape her watery fate, she also plays the role of prophet, giving her a purpose of which Shakespeare never dreamed.