March 2005

Dream Machine
by Blake Brooker and David Rhymer
March 4 – 20, 2005 Theatre Passe Muraille Toronto

I came this night to finally catch a production by the esteemed One Yellow Rabbit company from Calgary. And I was excited to experience their musical—Dream Machine.

Yes, Dream Machine is a musical, loosely based on the lives of the renegade Beat novelist, William Burroughs (Naked Lunch) and the lesser known Edmonton-raised artist, Brion Gysin, who first got Burroughs interested in the dream machine he invented. With its flickering lights, the machine was expected to induce a drugless high in the viewer, and Gysin's somewhat loopy plan was to make the dream machine a household item in 1950's America. This never happened.

Dream Machine is not a point-for-point dramatization of the lives of the Beats, and even though it starts with Michael Green's riveting delivery of Alan Ginsberg's call-to-arms poem, "America" (1956), its purpose is to draw you into a drugless 'high' state of mind.

Dream Machine started off, "as a musical investigation of the lives of some of the Beat luminaries (William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg and Brion Gysin) then it became something else”
(from the writer/director Blake Brooker's Notes).

'Something else' indeed.

We're plunged directly into the half-light world and mind of the unapologetic one-time drug addict and pioneer of the cut-up novel, William Burroughs. On stage, tall and lean, Andy Curtis captures the drawling disdainful attitude and the elegant dissipation of Burroughs, while the two worldly women in slinky black dresses (Denise Clarke and Onalea Gilbertson) are firmly posed, looking out at the audience, with two other men on stage dressed in white shirts and black trousers.

This is Minimalism in staging and in wardrobe. Very Black and White. And the blocking for the five performers is equally graphic and geometric in its spacing. Such Minimal staging is clearly a choice made by the One Yellow Rabbit company, and whether this Minimal style suits a musical about the Beats is a question best left to the critics. This piece has an identity.

Dream Machine has been called a musical without plot and characters, but it's actually a musical revue, and David Rhymer's song cycle is the absolute beating heart of this sometimes spoken and acted, sometimes sung and danced, highly engaging collage-like piece. Rhymer's blue-tinged, jazz-like music is played beautifully by the onstage musicians Jonathan Lewis (violin), Peter Moller (drums and percussion) and David Rhymer (keyboards). Audience heads swayed to the rhythmic pulse.

Here are some standout moments:

— Michael Green declaims with frustration Ginsberg's line: "America, when will you be angelic?", then cries out, "You don't really want to go to war”. (Sounds just like today, doesn't it?)

— The entire cast of five is onstage, singing "Tears From Mohammed's Eye", they sing together: "God is lazy, Allah is bored, and Buddha wants a bride”.

— Onalea Gilbertson's heart-rending, "Surrounded by Chrome", and its sorrowful refrain, "This is a nice house/But it's not my home."

— "I dream of you. You dream of me." The last words spoken.

Dream Machine is all mood and the subconscious.

The slotted light from the Dream Machine glows huge at the centre of the dark stage.

I say definitely check out this musical. Open up to the minds and frustrated dreams of these literary outlaws, these intelligences who lit out for the frontiers of society, away from all the conformity. Go inside.

We welcome your comments and feedback
• • • • • •
Report by David Fujino
• •
for The Live Music Report

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