A Dream Play: A surreal play on why humans suffer
This week, Kalamazoo College will attempt to stage what’s considered to be an un-stageable play. A Dream Play by August Strindberg is more than 100 years old and takes place almost entirely in a dream.
“In this dream play, the author has attempted to imitate the disconnected yet seemingly logical form of a dream," reads the poet from Strindberg's forward. "Anything can happen. Everything is possible and plausible. Time and space do not exist.”
K-College student Michael Wecht is the assistant director. He says there are more than 30 actors in the show and many of them have multiple roles. “
"One of our actors is actually quadruple cast from characters in the show where he had to play a naval officer, a coal heaver, a gentleman, the father of one of the other characters," says Wecht. "And so trying to find crisp, clear lines between all of these different characters. So that each time the actor enters on stage, the audience knows that this character is not the same as the one that he has already been previously.”
The play centers around Agnes, the daughter of Indra, the Hindu god of thunder. Emma Franzel plays her.
“The daughter of Indra is sent down to Earth on a cloud, or some say she falls to Earth on a cloud. And she’s sent there specifically to find out why human beings suffer. What is the cause of their unhappiness?" says Franzel. "And through that she experiences different forms of a life.”
Agnes sees all kinds of human suffering caused by things like gender roles and class struggles.
“She comes across two coal heavers in what is supposed to be the paradise land, Fairhaven. Foulstrand is the unhappy land, but Fairhaven is supposed to be a beautiful place yet there are these people that are working really hard and don’t get much compensation for their time or their work," Franzel says. "And it’s horrifying to her that some places as lovely as Fairhaven, where there can be these rich people who eat eight course dinners with wine, there can still be this inequality—and such a huge inequality—between two different groups of people.”
Some of the most compelling parts of the play are Agnes’s relationships with a poet, an officer, and a lawyer—all of whom are meant to resemble playwright August Strindberg himself. It’s easiest to see Strindberg in the lawyer character who seems to regret divorcing couples. Strindberg had three failed marriages.
“I have a murder case right now and as terrible as that is, do you know what’s worse? Separating husbands and wives,” says the lawyer. “And do you know, even after mutual accusations have filled reams of paper, and someone sympathetic asks the simple question, ‘What do you actually got against your husband or wife?’ They just stand there speechless.”
Because A Dream Play is set in a dream, the crew gets a chance to use their creativity. After all, it doesn’t have to make sense, it’s a dream. David Landskroener composes music and sound effects for the play.
“For like some of the characters I would initially be like ‘Oh, this sound obviously fits with this character.’ Then I’d play it and then I’d be like, ‘Oh wait, but that’s like too obviously fitting with that character.’ Like that’s what I would do in a regular type of story. So then I would go from like a drum or something and change it to a whistle or something. And still have it work with the character, it’s just when you first hear it you’re like ‘Oh wait, how does that fit with this kind of character?’ And then you’re like ‘Oh wait, we’re in a dream.’”
With so many characters and awkward scene changes, putting on A Dream Play can be tough. Often directors have to fill in the gaps in Strindberg’s script. Director Ed Menta says, as a result, you’ll never see the same version of A Dream Play twice.
“Whenever somebody does it your curiosity is immediately peaked," says Menta. "How are they going to do Dream Play?”