Dreams, as with anything intensely personal, make for either riveting or unbearably dull conversation. The spectacle of dream can be a pleasure in and of itself, but a spectacle about the self is a pleasure to the self alone: no one wants to wade in the miasma of someone else’s unconscious without a well-equipped tour guide. The kaleidoscopic tumble of sensations showcased therein must be leashed by a sense of indigenous logic (albeit a threadbare one) which, while successfully wedding reason and whimsy (what are dreams but sensible seeming nonsense?), suggests wilder realities too entrenched in our psyches to be presented in the visual language of the everyday. It is the dreamer’s duty to argue for his logic if he chooses to burden an audience with the story of it.
Strindberg’s A Dream Play, read, is a lithe snake among the reeds of madness. Where logic is allowed to roam off its leash, a diaphanous drift of compassion for the characters tames the otherwise jostling scenes: one can think, this play is difficult to understand because life itself is difficult to understand. When a character waxes aphoristic, the bluntness of her message is confounded by the discombobulated world in which she delivers it: when a goddess descended bemoans life on earth, one wonders – what life, which earth? Soft emotions tangle with hard unreality, a potent psychological concoction.
National Asian American Theatre Company’s production of A Dream Play, directed by Andrew Pang, is a campy romp through a funhouse of caricatures. Lacking logic and conviction, this adaptation marches through Strindberg’s nightmarish dreamscape with the distracted self-satisfaction of a tourist who never bothers to question why he decided to visit this revered place at all. Very much an ensemble performance, the cast collude to refashion the at times psychotically depressed and disjointed subject matter into a madcap allegorical farce about such economically packaged concepts as Life, Love, Death and Happiness, ignoring the trepidation and mania with which these concepts are handled in the text.
To be said in praise of this production, Sarah Lurie’s masterful lighting job does to the sparse but serviceable set (by Joseph Lark-Riley) what children’s imaginations do to empty refrigerator boxes.
The spectacle on display here is enjoyable but unenlightening. Why share a dream without substance?