are you awake or are you dreaming?
Dream Cabinet haunts Eponymous Gardens with menace, desire and voyeuristicdelight
This week, I walked through a dream. At times it was beautiful, at times it morphed into a nightmare and I feared it would turn on me, and it was often very sad. It was set, as dreams sometimes are, in an unfamiliar place: a pink Victorian farmhouse surrounded by heavy-limbed trees and small palms.
The dream reminded me of a David Lynch film (which should be no surprise, as they emerge from his own beautiful but troubled dreams), particularly in the first word I heard: “Electricity!” A small man in a black suit (Matt Hislope) shouted this from the porch and demonstrated a small device that supposedly cures all ills.
The bulk of this dream lived inside the darkened house, and in spite of the fact that I entered with a small crowd of dreamers, I felt quite alone.
There are others in the house: a dark-haired young woman in a blindfold (Adriene Mishler), bumping her way down the staircase; a bearded man in overalls (Jude Hickey), with a piercing glare; an older woman in a nurse’s uniform (Cyndi Williams), perpetually smoothing the folds of a wide, white bed; and another man (Michael Joplin), in a suit, surrounded by sheet-draped furniture in the parlor.
Gestures and phrases looped several times and the inhabitants of the house crossed paths, but seemed to be focused on their own tracks of movement and motivation, until, perched on a cushion in the parlor, I witnessed what felt like an intervention on the young woman. The huckster from the front steps sang,
She’s only a bird in a gilded cage
A beautiful sight to see
You may think she’s happy and free from care
She’s not, though she seems to be
Everyone moved out the back door to a path lit with small candles. We followed the residents of the house into a shed whose posters promised freak show terrors, but they’d disappeared. A placard read: THE END – and that’s when I realized this collective dream was a performance called Dream Cabinet.
The story is conceived by Sterling Price-McKinney (co-owner of Eponymous Garden, the gorgeous East Side home in which the performance takes place) and directed by Jenny Larson of Salvage Vanguard Theater, and takes on the same enigmatic, site-specific, wander-as-you-wish-mostly form as larger-scale works by the English company Punchdrunk (creators of the New York City hit Sleep No More), except with more dialogue.
This iteration was a snappy 30 minutes and was presented as part of Fusebox Festival’s Machine Shop Residency, which presents work in various stages of development.
For that reason, I’m hesitant to share more details of the piece, but needless to say, if you like the idea of theater that allows the audience to wander and take in the narrative in whatever order they wish, Dream Cabinet’s full production this October will be worth your while.
There’s enough beauty, menace, and haunting imagery to leave me wanting a longer version of the show, plus the added voyeuristic thrill of exploring somebody else’s house in the shadows of dusk.