Edmond Chibeau looks at performance and theatre from the avant-garde communication perspective

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Location: Mansfield, Connecticut, United States

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Strindberg: A Dream Play

A Dream Play

Based on the play by August Strindberg

Direction & Puppet Design by Joseph Jonah Therrien

Studio Mobius Theatre

March 24 – April 3, 2011

Review: Edmond Chibeau

The Joseph Jonah Therrien production of Strindberg’s, A Dream Play is a work of genius. It is very hard for me to go out on a limb to write that, so I had to say it up front. I went to see the play because I like Strindberg in general and A Dream Play in particular. I had never heard of director Joseph Jonah Therrien but I am now an admirer.

In this production puppets, actors, movement and text carry equal narrative weight. The themes are carried seamlessly across different media. Imagine a stage play as a symphony and the director as the conductor. Although a composer might develop a theme in the strings then move it to the woodwinds and then the brass, it is the conductor’s job to make sure that the voicing, feel, and interpretation is coherent across those different sections of the orchestra. The unity of the interpretation rests in the skill and sensitivity of the conductor, or in the case of a stage play, the director.

In A Dream Play, Therrien takes themes of angst, compassion, enlightenment, or irony, and moves them across media, from words to movement, to puppet, to set piece, to puppet handlers. Not only does each of these elements do a good job and exist in the same space as the others, but each is an integrated part of the other. Imagine members of a family so close that they can finish each other’s sentences and each can express what the other means to say. That is how the parts work together in this production.

One of the dangers of this kind of production is that the piece becomes all surface, and the deeper human meanings are sacrificed for facile effect.

In this Dream Play the different elements serve the larger meaning of the work. But the meaning is closer to the meaning of a piece of music then to the meaning of a newspaper report.

The attitude of this presentation is early 21st Century Goth, not early 20th Century Expressionism.

Strindberg calls for a door with “an air-hole shaped like a four-leaf clover.” Someone familiar with the play might wonder why there is no air-hole in the door that plays such an important part in the play.

Large sections of the text of Strindberg’s play have been removed and the wordings of different translations have been adjusted by the director-adaptor. But the production is true to Strindberg’s sense of awe before the cosmos and sorrowful compassion for the vanities and conceits of humankind.

The movement of the performers and the many different kinds and sizes of puppets are fluid and extended to the fullest the reach.

The stylized movements of Bryan Swormstedt (The Lawyer) and Tom Foran (The Poet) are especially articulate and compelling.

David Regan (whose work can be seen often on New England stages) plays the author Strindberg. Regan finds the right tone and disposition to lead us into the mood of the play at the beginning, and to round off the corners and bring us back to earth at the end.

Mandy Weiss (Indra’s Daughter) is the motivating force of the story. If she is not pitch perfect the whole work suffers. She nails it. Bam!

Miron Gusso (Doorman) and Desmont Thorne as (The Officer) understand their respective roles and work well with the rest of the production.

Costume designer, Matthew Charles Peoples has created unbalanced Goth-post-Punk-anti-fashion statements that work as part of the action of the play. The left leg and foot of many of the performers is different from the right. The costumes contribute to the character.

Sound designer, Steven Magro reinforces the sound and drops in little changes in the presence of the voices without imposing his interpretation on the performance.

Lighting designer, Kwame Tucker keeps the playing areas clearly lit while maintaining the dark mood of the piece.

At the end of the play there are no curtain calls. A glaring work-light comes on over the audience for a short while and then the houselights come up. The audience is left thinking about what has just transpired on stage. There is no warm self-congratulatory group hug that usually takes place during the curtain call for most theatricals.

No smiling actors, no hugs, just think about it yo.

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