Review: The Dream Machine by Blake Brooker

Written and directed by Blake Brooker
Music composed by David Rhymer

The National Arts Centre presents
A One Yellow Rabbit (Calgary) production

Staged by Denise Clarke
Sound producer Richard McDowell
Set design by Chris Cran
Assistant directed by David van Belle
Produced by Stephen Schroeder
Production manager Ian Wilson
Stage managed by Oliver Armstrong

The Maverick Think Tank:
Denise Clarke
Andy Curtis
Onalea Gilbertson
Michael Green
David van Belle

Strings, clarinet and bass Jonathan Lewis
Sequences and sound effects Richard McDowell
Percussion Brent van Dusen
Keyboards David Rhymer

The world premiere of Dream Machine was co-produced by Six Stages in Toronto, February 2003.

The performance is 90 minutes long with no intermission.

Performance viewed: October 21, 2006, 2 pm

Confession: I do not know as much about the beat movement as I would like to, especially after seeing this elegant, classy production. Sure, I read Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs in the early sixties, after I was out of school; I would certainly never have read them in the post-Victorian system of poetry that was foisted upon us by the post-Victorian school system that seemed to maintain that no poets worth knowing about had been born after Queen Victoria; certainly we would encounter no poets who wrote about or under the influence of drugs or sex — except maybe (giggle) Coleridge or Byron respectively — as a result, the beats existed outside our ken. Too bad.

I say too bad because as my reading in the seventies and this play reveal, the beats were sensitive, perceptive and devastating. Ginsberg’s “America”, the major poem that opens the show, sensitively performed by Michael Green, backed up by the company, is as topical today as it was in the late fifties, hitting politics, poverty, racism, xenophobia — and the list goes on. The rest of the script keeps on the gritty side of life in the USA and in beat circles, with occasional flashes of humour.

This is a musical. That’s two for two in Hinton’s new season. I am hoping to see an actual play soon, with a plot and character development and all. That is a bias of mine, I admit, although I would not have missed this production for anything. I must confess, though, that I wish I knew the poetry better, because I found that the text often flew by a little too fast to register. This is not a criticism of the cast, whose elocution was excellent, although sometimes choral speaking, which was prominent in this production, is difficult to decode if one does not already know the text. Give me a choral recitation of many of Shakespeare’s plays, and I can recite right along with the cast. All the same, there were many moments in the production that were striking. Sometimes, it was the soundscape, lighting and movement, sometimes it was the performances, sometimes the ensemble playing, sometimes recitation or singing. The whole cast could sing, act and dance superbly. There were many patter songs and recitations, so many that it is difficult to comment on any individually, because the whole production flowed by almost seamlessly, without room, even for applause, although some of us did sneak in applause occasionally.

There was one instant that struck me, no so much a dramatic moment as an intelligent reading. Green was reciting a piece in which he comes to a point where he tries to make a phone call, but the phone had no dial; but when he comes to the word “dial” he stops, and after a brief pause, the ensemble supplies the word “dial”, which gives us the word, although it is missing from the narrator’s words. I would like to see the text, to see if the form expressed that somehow. I suspect not. (You had to be there.)

The whole production is such a stellar ensemble piece that everyone, actors, musicians and technicians had to perform as one seamless unit, and they certainly did. Everyone had at least one moment in the spotlight, and handled it beautifully. There is one aspect in which this production is not “beat” (which means down and out, more or less) and that is it was never down and out, but always powerful and effective. The beat poets and other writers would have been amazed, I think.

The run continues in the NAC Studio to October 28 (General admission)

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About riverwriter

Poet, playwright, duplicate bridge player, website designer, cottager, husband, father, grandfather, former athlete, carpenter, computer helper for my friends, theatre designer, backstage polymath, retired teacher of highschool English, drama, art, a baritone singer in a barbershop quartet, who knows what else? wordcurrents is on Facebook: Doug also has a Facebook page, "Incognitio", related to his novels.
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