×

A Dream Play

The matchup of visionary director Robert Wilson with "A Dream Play," August Strindberg's 1901 meditation on the miseries of human existence, seemed promising. The idiosyncratic theatrical auteur might be expected to have an intuitive appreciation for the surreal landscapes of Strindberg's rarely staged play.

With:
With: Jessica Liedberg, Henrik Rafaelsen, Gerhard Hoboerstorfer, Andreas Liljeholm, Lasse Petterson, Ake Lundqvist, Anita Ekstrom, Kajsa Reingardt, Axelle Axell, Christer Banck, Robert Panzenbock, Thomas Wijkmark, Bo Samuelson, Per-Olov Gerhard Larsson, Cecilia Nilsson, Ulricha Johnson, Anna Rygdren.

The matchup of visionary director Robert Wilson with “A Dream Play,” August Strindberg’s 1901 meditation on the miseries of human existence, seemed promising. The idiosyncratic theatrical auteur might be expected to have an intuitive appreciation for the surreal landscapes of Strindberg’s rarely staged play.

But it only takes a few minutes to realize that Wilson isn’t particularly interested in Strindberg’s play, or at least in obeying the letter of its text. The images that Wilson conjures in his staging, seen at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in a production that debuted in 1998 at Stockholm’s Stadsteater, rarely correspond with the ones mentioned by the play’s author — there’s no castle, to begin with, so no flowering chrysanthemums atop it. When characters talk about hairpins, it’s a chunk of gray wood — the seat of a chair, I think, that they fondle.

The settings specified by Strindberg are as often as not replaced by places of work — where bricklaying and construction and the sale of dry goods take place. It’s an apt enough image of existence as duty and struggle, a motif echoed in the text, but it lacks the poetic dimension of Strindberg’s choices.

Wilson’s liberal way with the text would be immaterial if he had captured its spirit, but his expansively designed, elaborately staged production is a ponderous interpretation of a play that should feel lighter than air; even when Wilson is trying to be funny, as in an elaborate, interpolated cow-milking routine, he’s heavy as lead.

Three hours long, with complicated lighting and design schemes and some haunting and quite beautiful musical contributions from Michael Galasso, the production is aptly described in the program as “epic.” But “A Dream Play” is not an epic; it’s a philosophical doodle — a sweetly sour divertissement whose potency resides in its brisk whimsy and its earnest simplicity.

There is nothing brisk about Wilson’s aesthetic, and for all its clean lines, sharp lighting and handsome muted colors, it’s not really simple either; Wilson’s diversions from the stage directions and setting creates a tension between the play and the production that is ultimately oppressive. Strindberg’s mournful litany — “Human beings are to be pitied,” repeated by Agnes, a god’s daughter who descends to earth to observe human experience — should come across as the sweet-sad refrain of a lullaby; here it’s like repeated banging on a loud gong.

Since the staging, combined with the inevitably distancing use of supertitle translations (the actors are Swedish), effectively divorces the audience from the text, we are left with a pageant of imagery. Some of it is quite beautiful — the massive grey and white painted backdrops are soothing indeed, and the lighting effects have a hypnotic, sometimes rapturous attraction. But it communicates little beyond chilly grandeur and a vague eeriness.

In the end a play deeply sympathetic to human struggles is rendered almost inhuman. It turns out there was a deep flaw in the reasoning that suggested director and playwright would be an ideal match: the glacially paced, glassy-eyed figures who populate Wilson’s productions don’t really recall figures in dreams; they’re more like sleepwalkers. With ghoulishly pallid makeup, also a Wilson specialty, this isn’t so much a waking dream as a living nightmare: “A Dream Play” as performed by the cast of “The Night of the Living Dead.”

Popular on Variety

A Dream Play

Brooklyn Academy of Music/Howard Gilman Opera House; 2,000 seats; $55 top

Production: A Brooklyn Academy of Music presentation of the Stockholm's Stadsteater production of the play by August Strindberg in two acts. Directed by Robert Wilson.

Creative: Sets, Wilson; lighting, Andreas Fuchs, Wilson; music, Michael Galasso; costumes and masks, Jacques Reynaud; dramaturgs, Holm Keller, Monica Ohlsson; sound, Ronald Hallgren; production director, Bertil Bernhardtz. Opened Nov. 28, 2000. Reviewed Nov. 26. Running time: 3 HOURS.

Cast: With: Jessica Liedberg, Henrik Rafaelsen, Gerhard Hoboerstorfer, Andreas Liljeholm, Lasse Petterson, Ake Lundqvist, Anita Ekstrom, Kajsa Reingardt, Axelle Axell, Christer Banck, Robert Panzenbock, Thomas Wijkmark, Bo Samuelson, Per-Olov Gerhard Larsson, Cecilia Nilsson, Ulricha Johnson, Anna Rygdren.

More Legit

  • David-Alan-Grier-Blair-Underwood

    David Alan Grier and Blair Underwood to Star in 'A Soldier's Play' on Broadway

    David Alan Grier and Blair Underwood will star in a Broadway production of Pulitzer-Prize winning drama “A Soldier’s Play.” The play, written by Charles Fuller, is set in 1944 and follows a murder mystery centered around the death of black Sergeant Vernon C. Waters (played by Grier) who is found on a Louisiana army base. [...]

  • The Inheritance review

    'The Inheritance' Announces Broadway Cast

    After an Olivier-winning run in London, “The Inheritance” is gearing up for its Broadway debut. The two-part epic has set the cast for its transfer from the West End to the Great White Way. John Benjamin Hickey, Paul Hilton, Samuel H. Levine, Andrew Burnap and Kyle Soller are among the cast members reprising their roles [...]

  • Patrick Page, Amber Grey, Eva Noblezada,

    'Hadestown' Announces 2020 National Tour

    ‘Hadestown’, the eight-time Tony award winning Broadway musical, is set for a national tour in 2020. The show will stop in more than 30 cities including Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, New Orleans, and more. The musical is a stage adaptation of the Greek myths of Orpheus and Eurydice and King Hades and his wife [...]

  • Jake Gyllenhaal

    Listen: Why Jake Gyllenhaal Is His 'Best Self' in the Theater

    Looking for the best possible version of Jake Gyllenhaal? You’ll find it onstage, according to the actor himself. Listen to this week’s podcast below: “I am my best self when I’m working in the theater,” Gyllenhaal said on the latest episode Stagecraft, Variety’s theater podcast, on which he appeared with Carrie Cracknell, the director of [...]

  • Photo: Jeremy Daniel

    'The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical' Gets Broadway Run

    “The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical” is Broadway bound. The musical adaptation of the franchise about a teenager who discovers he’s the son of Poseidon hits the Great White Way on Sept. 20 ahead of an Oct. 16 opening night. It comes on the heels of an extensive, nationwide tour that took the show [...]

  • Tom Sturridge Jake Gyllenhaal

    Jake Gyllenhaal and Tom Sturridge Celebrate 'Sea Wall/A Life' With Star-Studded Opening Night

    A star-studded audience looked on as Jake Gyllenhaal and Tom Sturridge returned to the stage for their double monologue performance in “Sea Wall/A Life.” Theater-goers and celebs including Anne Hathaway, Tom Hiddleston and John Mulaney gathered in Manhattan’s Hudson Theatre for opening night, celebrating a show tackling grief, birth and death through the eyes of [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content