By Josh Inocéncio
The T.R.U.T.H. Project
by Susi Lopera
Josh Inocéncio’s short play Ofélio is a queer Latinx story of survival in which the main character, Ofélio, seeks help from a doctor after he is raped. First performed as part of the T.R.U.T.H. Project in 2017 in Houston, Texas, the play alludes to Shakespeare’s Hamlet. However, Inocéncio’s play does not parallel Shakespeare’s story of victimized Ophelia, who commits suicide in response to emotional abuse and manipulation. Instead, Inocéncio transforms Ofélio’s story into a narrative of survival and strength as Ofélio embraces all the difficulties and trauma that he has faced and determines to carry on and forge a new stronger self.
In the first scene of Ofélio, Ofélio recounts his experience with sexual violence, but instead of destroying him, Ofélio’s trauma makes him stronger and more intensely alive. Ofélio imagines his rape as being burned by fire. As he says, he is burned by the “brush / fire” of his abuser and then he is “pressed… deeper” into mud by his abuser. These images of fire and mud, deeply rooted in natural imagery, transform more conventional images of rape as a seedy, dirty act of degradation into a powerful image of rebirth. Like a phoenix, in his recounting of his rape, Ofélio is consumed by fire, but, unlike in usual images of a phoenix being reborn, what is left after the fire in Ofélio’s image is mud, not ashes. Mud, unlike ashes, is fertile and provides an opportunity for more growth. Ofélio carves out a “space in the mud, space that contains the potential for survival and regeneration.”At the end of his first speech in the play, Ofélio says, “I wonder if / a purple pansy can / ever grow / again?” Ofélio is the purple pansy in this image, and, like a phoenix, he will be reborn. He will not only grow again but will grow back stronger.
The purple pansy that Ofélio mentions in his first speech is the only overt connection between Inocéncio’s Ofélio and Shakespeare’s Hamlet. In both Hamlet and Ofélio, the purple flowers are symbols of Ophelia’s and Ofélio’s fragile selfhoods. In Hamlet, Ophelia is tied to flowers when she drowns surrounded by flowers and when she gives out flowers with symbolic meanings. In Ofélio, when Ofélio goes to a clinic to seek help from a doctor after he is raped, the doctor “pulls a little purple flower” from Ofélio’s mouth before Ofélio begins to speak, and, later, Ofélio imagines himself as a purple pansy and wonders if he will over grow again. Ofélio retreats deep within himself after he is raped, but he must step out of himself in order to keep going and get help, and as he speaks to the doctor, the doctor pulls Ofélio out into the world, away from his retreated state inside himself.
Ofélio has the option to keep his traumatizing experience of being raped a secret and to retreat from the world into his own pain, but he is willing to step out of himself and keep going and interact with the world to get help from a doctor. Ofélio has enough hope and bravery to tell the doctor about his traumatic experience and get her help, even though the doctor makes him feel shame and embarrassment as he talks to her. His experience being examined by the doctor is so traumatizing that it awakens a post-traumatic stress response and he relives the moment of his rape, but still Ofélio perseveres and seeks answers from the doctor and lets himself be examined.
Near the end of the play, Ofélio feels “dirty” as the doctor examines him with a gloved hand. Ofélio is able to transcend the present moment of being examined after being sexually violated as he enters into a poetic image in which he inhales “water and mud” as he hopes to grow “more flowers.”  Ofélio then expresses hope that that other gay men like him won’t “choke on the pansies” as easily as he did. These last few images and words in the play have an undeniable, though muted, sense of hope. Ofélio hopes to “grow more flowers” or, in other words, grow a stronger and more worldly version of himself, but he also hopes that his own experience will be healing in some way and will make the experiences of other gay men like himself less painful. In the end, Ofélio is an activist, pointing out important issues of sexual violence and deficient health resources and he hopes that he can improve the world for others like him.
 Josh Inocencio, “Ofelio” unpublished script. (n.d.).
 Katherine Gillen, “Shakespeare Appropriation and Queer Latinx Empowerment in Josh Inocéncio’s Ofélio,” in The Routledge Handbook of Shakespeare and Global Appropriation, eds. Christy Desmet, Sujata Iyengar and Miriam Jacobson (New York: Routledge, 2020), 90-101.