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“You may call me a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.” — J. Lennon.
When Albert Goldman’s biography The Lives of John Lennon came out in 1988 it was roundly attacked. Paul McCartney called it “a piece of trash,” and Rolling Stone said it was “riddled with factual inaccuracies.” Goldman had savaged a pop music saint, and no one would give credence to Lennon’s feet of clay — much less Goldman’s insistence that Lennon was a hollow idol, who in real life was cruel, selfish, and manipulative. The trivial truth was that Lennon was human, and as such, full of human failures, limitations, and fears. But the way he inspired people to dream about love and forgiveness made him seem above mere humanity in the eyes of his fans.
The same could be said for those paragons of working class heroism, the heroes of comic books. As mythological creatures, demi-gods of popular culture that first sprang to life during the Great Depression, they fight bad guys with an unambiguous “pow!” “zap!” and “ka-blammo!” In the 80s it became fashionable to make the heroes more human (e.g. “Superman III,” “Legends of the Dark Night”), and audiences came to understand that the flaws of their heroes made them paradoxically more heroic. The pathos of Superman or Batman is a product of their limitations, not their powers. But their essential heroism is still pure: they know who the bad guys are and how to defeat them in thirty-six pages or less.
August Schulenburg’s new play Dream Walker presents us with a hybrid working class hero. Richie, played by Collin Smith, is part Lucy in the Sky, poetic dreamer and part Annikken Starkiller, natural born ass kicker. He is a social misfit, hopeless romantic, and allergic to money. His older brother Gary, played by Matthew Archambault, works in the “real world” to support Richie with food, raiment, and shelter while Richie crafts a Tolkien-esque fantasy novel that may never see the light of day. But Richie has two special powers: as a writer (unpublished when the play opens) he has the very human power of weaving beautiful stories; as a comic book hero he is able to enter people’s literal dreams and influence them.
Julia Jarcho’s new play Dreamless Land is, in fact, all a dream. The action starts when a young woman, Haley, enters the performance space clutching a teddy bear to her chest. Around the stage sit three people: an older man, an older woman, and a young man. She nods to them in turn, and they beep like off-duty automatons from The Stepford Wives or Blade Runner. The young man seems to resist her, so she nods at him forcefully once more. He beeps again, takes a propeller beany out of the wooden box on which he sits, and puts it on his head. Haley takes a seat upstage and watches as the three perform a family drama whose theme is fracture, dislocation, and fear. Father appears to be an alcoholic abuser. Mother is emotionally distant. And Morton, their son, escapes into technology, nebulously defined as a glowing, translucent cube inside a larger transparent plexiglass cube that sits in the center of the stage.
Though Halloween is gone, the terror lingers on. Brew of the Dead II: Oktoberflesh is a feature length homage to “horror” (notice the scare quotes) that will literally make your skin crawl.