Friday, November 11, 2011

THEATER: Dream Walker

Comics, particularly the long-running ones, often suffer from a sort of disassociative identity disorder, in that they've been worked on by so many writers and artists that they no longer belong to any one person; instead, they become a pop-cultural part of our collective consciousness: from issue to issue, they are whatever we need them to be. August Schulenburg's latest offering, Dream Walker, initially suffers from and ultimately benefits from this porous definition. What starts out as an cheesy "superhero" comic, with overdrawn Liefeld-like limbs and exclamatory, Stan Lee-style plotting, becomes, over the course of ninety minutes, something more suggestive and alluring, a Sandman-esque anthology looking at the nature of hope, imagination, and love.

The basic concept is that Richie (Collin Smith), an idle, idealistic, and id-filled would-be-writer, awakes one day to find that he can enter other people's dreams, connecting through some sort of mystical sleepwalking switchboard ('nuff said). His fastidious and tightly strung brother, Gary (Matthew Archambault), is dismissive of the idea, which causes him to come across as a bit of an asshole to the girl he's just started to date, Dawn (Jennifer Somers Kipley). What ensues is a clash between the peevishly practical and impishly impractical, for Richie, hoping to influence Dawn's dreams to make her love Gary again, accidentally makes Dawn fall for him. It's a little ironic, and a sign of character plotting that still need to be worked out, that the problematic part of the previous sentence is the breakup between Gary and Dawn, which occurs without warning, and is caused by an infidelity that Gary can't adequately explain. (Something to do with how his sense of unworthiness causes him to sabotage relationships, which is not what you'd expect of a swim-team champion and literal life-saver.)

It's at this point that the dreams shift from being gimmicks to being a part of the play. The early sequences, like "Dream Walker vs. The Big Bad Brother Boss" are simple stories meant to hint at Richie's powers, with a distant narrator explaining the pantomimed action. Latter dreams -- like the one in which Richie tries to talk to his brother, only to get unforgivingly killed by him, time and again -- are still funny (see the references to Mortal Kombat and Clue), but they're also deepening our understanding of the characters. This is also where Schulenburg gets looser with his imagery, getting all figurative and allegorical with his writing -- a good thing, since he's perhaps a stronger writer when not being so literal.

Dream Walker has quite a few kinks -- many on the technical side, which is to be expected of a new production company -- and would most likely benefit from a more visual direction that emphasizes the differences (and similarities) between reality and dream. (Consider the effects well-used by Ruhl, Callaghan, and Schwartz, to name a few at-times magical playwrights.) Still, save for a few blocking issues, Mariella Duke does a fine job of presenting the play, just as Smith (who seems to be channeling a little bit of Charlie Day's energies) does an outstanding job as the dreamer, loose enough to allow for just about anything, but grounded enough in clear wants and needs such that the play doesn't fly apart. So far as dreams go, can one ask for anything more?

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