I've been dreaming of plays a lot this year. Not nearly as often as I dream about zombies and heights and getting inexplicably lost on the subway or late for airplanes or in weird parts of stadiums where I can't see the field, but plays are in there, churning around my unconscious to bubble up while I sleep. Mostly they are terrible, and sometimes merely terrifying, but once in a while they are really wonderful.
Last night, perhaps in response to that altogether troubling Julius Caesar which I saw at St. Ann's Warehouse last week, I dreamt of a thoroughly modern take on Romeo And Juliet. It started with the audience standing around a square counter, like at the Apple Pan, where the play's opening lines hummed softly in the background, as an actor explained that we were about to see something strange. It was a press preview—I took notes the whole time—and a critic beside me got all peevish about the fact that he was possibly in for a surprise. He left, and the whole lunch counter rotated down through the floor, spiraling into a massive underground gymnasium where a few dozen teenagers sparred with each other: our Montagues and Capulets.
"Man—they really threw some money at this," I thought, as I noted the disappointing influence that The Hunger Games seemed to have had on the production.
The first act proceeded through the gym, where the kids did all sorts of different American Gladiators-style fighting, and played an ancient Italian form of basketball where the court shrank gradually over the course of the game. For Act II we were transferred to the top of an ice-covered mountain—again, fabulous production values, especially for Off Broadway—that looked like something out of a Lovecraftian dreamscape.
By now the play's narrative had completely collapsed, but the spectacle was enough to keep me happy, since even in sleep I'm a shallow sort of theatergoer. On the other side of the barrier, I saw a pair of water bottles floating in space, and I was gripped by my customary sleeping terror that comes whenever something is suspended in thin air. (Remember that fear of heights I mentioned earlier?) The water poured back and forth from one bottle to the other, and I realized that they were being manipulated by an invisible stagehand, suspended by wire, and pouring the water to simulate a rainstorm. It was terrifying, but in a sublime way, and I noted the effect in my notebook, impressed.
I woke up relaxed and giddy—the same warmth that comes after seeing a really wonderful play, but without ever having to leave my really wonderful bed. As I replayed it in my mind—the best way to remember your dreams, by the way—I was struck by one minor flaw that hadn't occurred to my dream-critic.
If you're going to go to the trouble to create an invisible floating stagehand, is that really the best way to use him?
It's all concept, no execution, that unconscious of mine.
In any case, I'm seeing a real-life production of Romeo And Juliet tomorrow at CSC. Hopefully it will keep me awake.