Strindberg's Dream

Review by Steve Capra

Dream Play
produced by The Onomatopoeia Theatre Company
directed by Thomas R. Gordon
with Miranda Webster, Nathan Winkelstein, Finn Kilgore, J. Michael Evans

Strindberg wrote A Dream Play in 1901; it was first produced in 1907. The play introduced the intemperate, heady expressionism that freed European drama from the constraints of realism. Even by today’s standards, it’s surreal.

Has there ever been a more despairing play? Strindberg explores universal suffering. Success leads to failure in life, pleasure to guilt and “the sea is salty because sailors cry so much.” Of course, there’s redemption here. Suffering is redemption and death is deliverance.

The daughter of the Indra, king of the gods, comes to earth in part by accident and in part to learn about mortal life. She marries and finds emotional ruin. She runs off with an officer and they reach a quarantine island for the ill. She meets a poet to greater satisfaction, but without comfort. Finally she returns above the earth again having learned what it is to be earthbound. What she’s learned is that “man is to be pitied”.

Beyond this, it would be futile to try to relate the play’s plot. At any rate, A Dream Play isn’t plot-driven. Strindberg replaced plot with a series of hallucinatory scenes that are only generally linear. There’s a barrage of seemingly unrelated symbols – a stage door leading to nothing, a tower that grows. At the end – and I imagine no company has ever staged this – the stage bursts into a chrysanthemum.
The Onomatopoeia Theatre Company has given the play an uneven production off-off-Broadway. Thomas R. Gordon is a talented director; his work is skillful but not arresting. The scenes pass fluidly. But at one point he has his actor address the audience; the moment is intrusive, totally inappropriate for the play.

Miranda Webster works well as the ethereal daughter of the god, with clear analysis of the script. She creates a marvelous contrast to her innocence showing her temper in a domestic quarrel. And yet at the end of the play we can’t believe she’s seen misery; she returns to the god as exquisite as when she arrived.
The three men with whom Indra’s daughter explores earth are played by three talented actors. Nathan Winkelstein is particularly deft as the officer.

We applaud this young and ambitious company; A Dream Play would intimidate even the most mature theater, and they’ve taken it on, albeit with moderate success.

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