KPBS AIRDATE: February 23, 1994 >
(MUSIC, under: “Birthmurder”)
“Burning Dreams” has been smoldering in the hearts and minds of its talented collaborators for three years. San Diego Repertory Theatre co-director Sam Woodhouse has brought together composer Gina Leishman, writer/co-director Julie Hebert, playwright Octavio Solis and designer Robert Brill for the world premiere of a bilingual jazz opera. A dream-come-true for the creators, the piece can sometimes be a nightmare for the audience. If you don’t read the program synopsis, you’re hopelessly lost. Like the protagonist, you too are floating in a dreamspace, and while that may at times be intriguing, it can also be unnerving. As in a dream, you never know exactly what’s going on or what it all means. Nothing is linear. Much is unclear. All this was part of the creators’ intention. They invite you to go with the flow, to let yourself be wafted away by the unfolding story. It isn’t always easy.
A coming of age tale very loosely based on Calderon de la Barca’s 17th century Spanish classic, “Life is a Dream,” the plot unravels elliptically, and does not come together until the end. In eighteen dreamlets, or dream segments, we experience parallel universes: the midwife on an island off the coast of Yucatan, Mexico, performing a ritual to cleanse herself of guilt and suffering. A young girl in California, an adopted child searching for her identity on her 17th birthday. When she falls asleep, we and she are visited by spirits and clowns, the ghosts of her father, and the mother and twin brother who died in childbirth — a brother she never knew she had, a family story that is totally new to her.
She searches, finds, loses, connects, rejects, dissociates, makes peace with her past. The spirits bleed and love, kill and die, apologize, forgive and bury. They move in stylized ways; they each have a thematic melody; they sing their pain and loss. They whine and wail, yet we remain somehow distant and removed. There are histrionics but they become soporific. The dreamstate begins to lull us into somnolence.
(MUSIC, under and up, “The Body Vegetable”)
The five singers and seven musicians are wonderful, the performances are lively, Robert Brill’s set is imaginative and evocative and Gina Leishman’s score and musical direction are very inventive. Some rhythms and melodies seem to be informed by Stravinsky, by Kurt Weill, even by Philip Glass. But the libretto is convoluted and the lyrics are not up to the poetic vision. And sadly, after awhile, there’s a sameness to the moves and the music. You have to alter your expectations when you enter this theater; put analysis on hold; prepare to simply experience the experience. Only then can you embrace the collaborators’ dreams as an enjoyable theatrical reality….
……For more concrete themes, presentations and a whole truckload of variety, don’t miss the fourth annual Actors Festival. Fourteen performance dates, 70 actors, 25 plays. A little theatrical grazing, a patchwork quilt of comedies, one-acts, dramas, mini-musicals. For once, the actors get to choose what they want to perform, and often even to write it. It’s a great way to see who’s here and what they think they do best. And with a changing bill every night, it’ll keep anyone engaged.
I’m Pat Launer, for KPBS radio.
©1994 Patté Productions Inc.