Dallas — What is a human movement performance without dance? What is the line between a puppet, a costume and a character? How does an audience react to a performance that blends and blurs lines between genres around a group of characters that may be unfamiliar? And how to communicate a character’s lust for power without any dialogue?
Prism Movement Theater’s production of As Dreams Are Made On explores these concepts in a free show at the Oak Cliff Cultural Center through April 29. The story is seemingly simple on its face and presents itself as a prequel to Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Prospero, who we remember as the usurped Duke of Milan, arrives shipwrecked on an enchanted isle with his daughter Miranda after escaping his brother Antonio. He meets the sorceress Sycorax and her son Caliban, who in Prism’s story aid these two refugees. Sycorax then begins to teach her magic to Prospero, but Prospero uses that knowledge to overpower and kill Sycorax, and take control of the island.
However, this “seemingly simple” story can be difficult to follow due to several either dream sequences or flashbacks (remember, there is no dialogue in the play). What we feel we know in the play is that Prospero (played well by Kristen Lazarchick) struggles with a wide range of conflicting instincts and reactions. Lazarchick’s Prospero is the only character that doesn’t wear a mask or isn’t a puppet (which are created by Frida Espinosa Müller, Issac Young and Sam Cress). So it is really up to her to communicate to the audience the tone of the scenes, though she and the play are ably aided throughout by musician Sarah Rubio-Rogerson, who’s cello works with Lazarchick to bring emphasis to what her character is experiencing.
Occasionally it feels more like a one-woman show with Lazarchick’s expressive demeanor and movement gaining resonance with the audience, and Rubio-Rogerson’s cello multiplying the effect. The ensemble cast, though energetic in their attempts, feel more like props for Prospero’s emotional journey within the play.
If one looks at the history of silent theater and film, we find that facial expressiveness and body movement, complemented by music and lighting (and of note here: Jonah Gutierrez’ lighting successfully and professionally adds another dimension to the show), are keys to a winning performance. But if only one character has the ability to express their emotions with their face, then the ability to play off the other characters or as audience members feel what other characters are feeling, is limited. While the ensemble uses their masks and puppets as well as can be hoped, it is difficult at times to perceive the other characters as characters rather than just props.
The show at times seems to be an acting and directing exercise with an audience (Josh Porter is the director). While one can understand why actors would want to participate, gaining valuable practice in non-verbal communication, how much they truly affect the audience remains a difficult subjective question to answer. While a wonderful challenge for a director in both managing the story, actors and technical aspects, how much is the human condition illuminated?
This reviewer at least would have at least liked to have seen Catie McClain, who plays Sycorax, without a mask. While she does take it off briefly, the story is already about the interaction between Sycorax and Prospero. So why not let the audience get closer to that relationship by letting McClain get out from behind the mask and use her skills to help draw a more intimate portrait of these two characters?
Ultimately, Prism Movement Theater is experimental by design, and they have something here that has potential to expand the traditional theater offerings here in Dallas. Experimental theater is even more subjective to review than traditional theater, dance or music. How much of the show was improvised versus planned? How much will change in the next performance? How much did audience members not familiar with The Tempest feel confused, or was it even necessary for them to follow a storyline? These are all difficult questions to answer, and this reviewer at least isn’t willing to give a definitive “thumbs up/thumbs down” to the show.
Fortunately for you, the theater goer, you do have this free option to add some breadth in your theater palate through April 29 and can try to answer these questions yourself.