There may be no modern dramatist whose work is harder to love than August Strindberg. It’s sort of unfair, when you consider that the tormented Swede with one foot in the camp of naturalism and the other in expressionism all but opened the door for 20th century drama (a publicly grateful O’Neill would have given him his last clean shirt). In a way, he was thanked for his trouble by seeing his work eclipsed by more appealing writers who benefited from his nonlinear style.
It’s hard now to appreciate what A Dream Play meant in 1902, but to see a waking dream on a proper stage, in all its darting, deviating non-logic, was startling. In theory, it could still startle. But for audiences babysat by television and weened on MTV auteurs, A Dream Play places even more burden on a director than the garden-variety exhumed classic. It’s written nowhere that a colossal budget is required to render a stage dreamlike, but to maintain the fluid peculiarities of nocturnal consciousness, a director needs to be able to keep Strindberg’s strange images varied and moving on a constant, figurative conveyor belt, so that the comely young daughter whose dream we’re watching becomes our own.
On a single set, and (more problematically) with a single, presentational acting style, Biskup’s small proscenium production does little to illuminate what made Strindberg revolutionary, and less to demonstrate what once made him popular. Biskup gets some sly posthumous revenge on the playwright noted for his virulent misogyny (the majority of her actors are women), and she allows designer Matt Test’s soundscape to take us into R.E.M. sleep territory. But her production looks and feels like one of few choices, which makes you wonder why the play was chosen in the first place.—Christopher Piatt