Only Theater Grotesco could blend Allende and albee (with a little help).
One would not immediately conceive of the stark, brittle world of Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? as the jumping off place for a non-linear interpretation of Isabel Allende's magical realist tales, The Stories of Eva Luna as conceived by Theater Grottesco and Sideshow Physical Theatre in their vivid theater piece, A Dream Inside Another. But jump it does. Martha's familiar tirade about some goddamn Bette Davis picture ends as abruptly as Dorothy's trip from sepia to Technicolor when performer Rod Harrison emerges from George and Martha's fridge. Though director John Flax contends the prelude represents a pragmatic North American vs. magical South American set-up, this review gives a little more credit to Albee. After all, what better place for dreams to burrow than in that fertile ground between truth and illusion that his characters so frequently tread?
The next two hours are devoted to the portrayal of an unspeakably beautiful and unsettling interior world replete with opera, chiffon and underwater videography. Three of Allende's stories are woven in an out of each other in a graceful ballet between European refugees in the Caribbean in "The Little Heidelberg," a shockingly innocent seduction in "Wicked Girl" and the tragic consequences of opera-loving in "Tosca." And it all amounts to the most sweepingly expressive piece of theater Santa Fe has seen in a long time.
The name grottesco itself (not yucky "gross," but the Italian/art historical term referring to the crossroads of the tragic and comic, or the "hideous and the beautiful") is bound to produce something that transcends some airy idealization of the unreal. As performer Harrison so aptly puts it, the grotesque "demands something of its audience." You would expect no less from the company that "intends to enter your heart through your senses and through your pores" with its special blend of physicality and the absurd.
Of course, it's about more than super-sensory saturation. The play brings the drowsy world of desires crashing to earth with the question of love. Harrison steps out of the refrigerator with a description of that moment where you wake up from a dream, a dream where you've got that feeling of falling in love. And once you lose it, you can't get it back, no matter how much you try. So the question is, are we in love with people or are we in love with being in love?
In search of an answer, four men and three women of various body and personality types enact the three stories of Eva Luna from a multiplicity of viewpoints. A Finnish captain on an island who waits 40 years to speak to his beloved through a translator; an 11-year old who beds her mother's lover unbeknownst to him and inspires desires that ruin a life; a woman doomed to a tragic fate of literary proportions because of a love for Tosca-each of these blossoms from the communicative choreography of Della Davidson and a killer soundtrack incorporating original orchestration, old dance hall tunes and techno. The masterful movement and sound trump words to illustrate the point that love is like Hotel California: We are all just prisoners there of our own device. And each tale in turn has its own device for illustrating that love is not dependent upon the understanding of its object, but instead is based upon the irrational cravings of something as ephemeral as a dream.
And much like a love for The Eagles, desire can be deeply shameful, but beautifully grotesque. The most important and impressive aspect of A Dream Inside Another is its success at riding the freakshow/fairytale line. Beyond the general shock that is tubby men in wedding dresses flinging themselves around like Isadora Duncan, A Dream easily embraces such appallingly delectable acts as flitting about in angel wings and lip-synching to Madame Butterfly. In the most dreamlike of the three tales, Mauritzia (played by the expertly graceful Kerry Mehling) is an unhappily married woman with a passion for opera who finds a lover to share in her Puccini-inspired fantasies. Once she begins to blur the borders between life and art she is doomed to inhabit the fates of several well-known characters, effortlessly morphing from Anna Karenina to Mrs. Havesham, even to Tom Petty in a disturbing "Last Dance with Mary Jane" waltz with her dead lover, shifting personae, yet remaining the same, just as she would in a dream.
This theatrical assemblage of allusions and narrative entanglements is not for the sake of post-modern posturing or literary theory geek-outs, but the result of companies combining their sizeable bags o' tricks to put on a fitting homage to The Stories of Eva Luna and an honest-to-goodness powerhouse of a show, every last second of which demands savoring. And gleefully refusing to wake from its delicious, haunting spell.