A Dream Play

HERE , Downtown Saturday April 13 2013 20:30
  • 1 out of 5 stars
Photograph: William P. Steele
A Dream Play
Photograph: William P. Steele
A Dream Play
Photograph: William P. Steele
Photograph: William P. Steele
Photograph: William P. Steele
Photograph: William P. Steele

HERE (see Off Broadway). By August Strindberg. Adapted by Sung Rno and Andrew Pang. Dir. Pang. With ensemble cast. 1hr 30mins. No intermission.

August Strindberg’s trippy, musically structured A Dream Play already poses a challenge to an audience grown unaccustomed to turn-of-the-century Symbolism. A 1901 fantasy, it features a living, plant-like castle sustained by mulch, a visiting goddess and a cartload of Swedenborgian symbols wrapped up in poetry. Clarity, clearly, was never the play’s raison d’être, but there is a kind of slippery logic inside it—and it shouldn’t be treated as random nonsense.

Andrew Pang’s plodding, amateurish staging for the National Asian American Theater Company (NAATCO) reduces the visuals to hash and its characters—archetypes all—to awkward acting-school exercises. People move portentously yet hesitantly, looking for all the world like drama students caught practicing Viewpoints. We might be able to overlook shabby production values if we were to hear the text with some freshness, some connection. Unfortunately, adapter Sung Rno (splicing in sequences from Inferno, Strindberg’s quasi-autobiographical novel about a schizoid break) and Pang work hectically, destroying as they go. They have yet to grapple with the surreal, proto-montage structure of the original; added texts and performance tangents (a pole dancer?) only further confuse the impact.

The company’s mission is a great one: Mia Katigbak and Richard Eng founded NAATCO as a means to produce contemporary plays and classics with Asian-American casts. Some very fine pieces of theater (their modern-dress Ivanov, a strange and wonderful Mother Courage) have been the result. But you would never know it from this knock-kneed, barely professional presentation. Best to stay away, so that you won’t be tempted to judge the troupe by it.—Helen Shaw

Venue name: HERE
Address: 145 Sixth Ave
New York
Cross street: at Dominick St
Transport: Subway: C, E to Spring St
Price: $25
Event phone: 212-352-3101