nytheatre.com review by Aimee Todoroff
August 15, 2011
Upon entering the lobby of the CSV Flamboyan Theatre, your eye is immediately drawn to a larger-than-life character in an over-sized, asymmetrical top hat and button-down, dusty-gray jacket. He is The Doorman, and he is there to usher you into the bizarre fantasy world that is Oh, Yes! Yes! Productions’ Dreamplay, written and directed by Joseph Jonah Therrien, based on A Dream Play by August Strindberg. The company blends puppetry, masks and the Suzuki Method of physical theatre to create a sense of the familiar that’s been distorted yet stays rooted to a sense of truth. The result is part dark nightmare, part colorful dream, and a theatrical experience that is sure to be a highlight of this season’s FringeNYC Festival.
Once inside, the audience is seated on three sides of a thrust stage, which holds mysteriously shaped objects covered in white sheets. The lights go dark, and Strindberg himself enters. It is clear that we’re now part of his bleak black and white world, where demons violently haunt his every step. Suddenly, there is shift to a different place, and we’ve delved deeper, into the world of Strindberg’s story. Colors splash across the stage, and Indra’s daughter, played by Alison Barton, floats above the clouds made of the repurposed white sheets paired with cotton-y, puffed up masks. She is upset because her father wants to destroy the planet with the people on it. Humans can’t stop complaining, and Indra’s daughter sets out to prove to the humans that “our suffering will lead to something worthwhile.” She descends to Earth and her journey begins.
Each audience member will probably find different nuances to the meaning of the off-kilter interludes that make up Indra’s daughter’s journey, but they universally illustrate the frustration of being alive. Some of the characters she encounters are puppets, some are actors in masks, while others have no apparatus at all. One of my favorites is the petty, jealous Officer, whose face is a large, distorted mask literally green with envy. Actor Ben Rosenblatt is wonderfully expressive in this role, using the mask to amplify the various levels he finds for the Officer’s inner emotional life, making the Officer one of the most compelling characters on stage. Tom Foran as the Lawyer also stands out, taking over the stage with every entrance—a difficult task for an actor to do when competing against a two-story-tall puppet creature for attention! He brings boundless energy to the challenging role, navigating multiple quick changes in his objective while maintaining emotional honesty. Kate Shine’s portrayal of the Stage Manager is beautiful in its straightforward clarity and it is a welcome grounding force in the whirlwind world of the play.
But the real stars of the show are the ensemble, who dash about the stage from all directions, at times startling the audience and at others becoming part of it, watching the action unfold along with us. They also bring dozens of puppets to life and create the various locations in this surreal dream world. The Suzuki influence is most apparent in the demon chorus, which rhythmically stomps, glides and shifts the focus of play from one moment to the next. They are assisted by an outstanding sound design by Mandy Weiss, which seamlessly transports us from the realm of the spiritual to the earthbound, and a lighting design by Alex Goldberg that finds the perfect levels of light and dark for each moment, moving the story along. The set, designed by Joshua Kigner, provides ample opportunity for different levels and is every bit as active and colorful as the puppets, transmuting the world of the play from a location to a character in its own right.
Writer-director-puppet designer Therrien has done a terrific job coordinating disparate elements into one cohesive vision, and he clearly cares a great deal for his subject matter. The play has been workshopped at the National Puppetry Conference at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center and premiered at the Connecticut Repertory Theatre. This time in development has paid off with a fully realized production, and one that I highly recommend.