Only three weeks remain until Super Bowl 46.
I, for one, am looking forward to watching predominantly bachelors fight over the swine-skin symbol of fertility in a sexually tense contest over socially accepted marriage rights. With their enhanced symbols of masculinity (enlarged head and shoulders, skin-tight pants, etc.), I couldn’t stand to miss the heavily heated contest as each team tries to penetrate the other’s endzone with the swine-skin symbol of fertility --- and score.
I’ll probably watch the game from my couch. Because this is exactly where I need to be after watching Bridgewater College’s steampunk interpretation of Strindberg’s A Dream Play. A fantastically phallus-filled Freudian fieldtrip into the inner machinery of the mind, steampunk is a powerful choice for such a locomotive play. Repetition, not football, is really the name of this game.
Repetition like the ticking away of time, which doesn’t exist for the characters onstage. “If time exists, then you should be able to say what it is,” Alfred’s schoolmaster chastises him. But Alfred can’t. Time certainly doesn’t fly for the military officer, as he tries to learn his multiplication tables.
“Twice two is two,” Alfred answers the schoolmaster in supplication. “And I can explain that by analogy.” Simply, if one times one is one, then two times two is ... two. Alfred quickly finds himself in trouble with this equally absurd schoolmaster, as he tries to wriggle commonality from the absolute truth of mathematics and the imperfect interpretation of language.
Repetition is really the name of this game. Repetition like the recurrence of history. Director Scott W. Cole gives us steampunk goggles through which to see the play, though at times, these goggles fog over. (Why the masks again?)
A style of science fiction, steampunk is a revisionist use of Victorian science and culture in futuristic ways. Jim Jenkins’s set and lighting design are driven by this steam-locomotion mentality, at times cumbersome, but always powerful. An ever-present steamy haze leaves the audience wondering just what’s happening in this anachronistic story. Costumer Holly Labbe undercuts the rigidness of the Victorian culture by cutting away the front of most every dress, revealing the creativity of the womb to birth whatever metaphor (and there are a lot of them) and whatever interpretation (and there are a lot of them) the audience discovers crossing the boards.
Repetition is really the name of this game. Repetition like a referee’s whistle, blown to stop play. This authority is given to the audience, to whom the characters occasionally look and address. The audience is the only linear consciousness held against Strindberg’s play, leaving them alone to choose between fair or foul play, dream or nightmare. Time and again, the audience decides whose logic to follow through the haze. Time and again, Agnes is that character.
If only I could get some sleep, Alfred tells her. After all, do dreams sleep? When? When does interpretation stop? When does meaning signify nothing? Never? Agnes is with the audience as it takes the first halting steps toward withdrawing meaning from the play. And it is done beautifully.
“I know what a dream is. What’s poetry?” a lover ask Agnes. Well, she answers with not so few words, if we didn’t have poetry, humankind would never have progressed even past agriculture --- let alone steam locomotion.
Repetition is really the name of this game. Repetition like questioning the unknown. Why are we animals and not gods? What is behind that damn door?
The onstage spectacle builds flawlessly as the tension mounts. A glow emits and slowly grows into a substantial shaft of bright white light. But once we look through this effect, we see only darkness. Nothing lies behind the door. Religion, Science, and Law have a masterful debate concerning Nothing and its possible meanings, but after, the audience is left with only a limp grasp of these explanations, each as ungratifying as the next.
“It’s no help thinking you’re right,” the lover says, “because the next moment you’re wrong.” Repetition is really the name of this game.
Repetition like Alfred. Repetition like the lover. Repetition like meals and newspapers. Repetition like wins and losses. Repetition like marriage for the sake of the baby. Repetition. Repetition. Repetition. Repetition. Repetition. Repetition locomotive like a train.
Our dreams separate the light from the dark. Our poetry makes sense of the rest.