Arts + Scene » Stage Matters

NPA's Youthful Dream Concludes, NCRT's Midlife Fantasy Ahead



You can still catch The Dream Play at the Van Duzer - its run concludes with 8 p.m. performances on Wednesday (Jan. 24) and Thursday (Jan. 25). These Young Actors Guild shows from the Northcoast Preparatory and Performing Arts Academy are unique. They bring together young people devoted to an arts-based education with visionary theatrical veterans (director Jean Heard Bazemore and set designer Gerald Beck) in adaptations of stylistically unconventional and substantive plays that these days just aren't seen much on the North Coast.

The play's not the only thing of interest on the stage. As with performances of other high school, junior high and young people's groups (such as those at Dell'Arte, Ferndale Rep and NCRT) that always aren't reviewed here, the experience of witnessing young people discovering themselves on stage can be inspiring, resonant and educational for the audience as well as the students. The play in turn can itself be infused with more meaning by youthful enthusiasm and sincerity.

The Dream Play has all of that, plus an efficiently flowing, focused production, and Beck and Bazemore's magnificent stage pictures: There's a scene with a trapezoidal door suspended in space, with similarly shaped screens floating above an elegantly composed set of actors that's breath-taking.

These are juniors and seniors, some of them in their fourth or fifth play, and some on stage for the first time. The cast also includes exchange students from China, Germany and Ghana. A school production allows large casts, and there are as many as 20 actors on the stage in this one, with a Greek-style chorus that's big enough to suggest the power of the people's voice, whether used for good or ill.

I saw Saturday's performance, with Isaiah Cooper deftly expressing the Officer's changing moods and circumstances (he alternates with Sterling Johnson-Brown), and Tehya Wood, stately, radiant and beautifully costumed as the Daughter of the god Indra (she alternates with Hanna Nielsen and Nicky Vakilova). Bohdan Banducci, blessed with a fine stage voice and presence, plays the impoverished Lawyer whose marriage to the Daughter reveals earthly woes. Fiona Ryder's aria wowed the crowd, student James Forrest composed the dramatically effective video projections, and all the actors capably brought out the humanity and the humor of the characters and the play.

This isn't pure Strindberg - there are musical interpolations and a much different ending, extolling the virtues of relationship and group action rather than the author's emphasis on the eternal tensions of the human condition. But that's also fitting for a youthful vision, and I found that seeing this play in action illuminated a further reading of Strindberg's text.

Saturday's audience, which was clearly involved in each stage moment, included a certain couple with an extra interest. Joyce Hough and Fred Neighbor are familiar figures in the North Coast music scene. As mentioned here last week, Jean Bazemore directed an HSU production of A Dream Play in the Van Duzer in 1969. Joyce Hough played the Daughter, and Neighbor was the Lawyer. They met while doing the play, and their nightly 20 minutes alone crouched in a crawlspace waiting for their entrance might have had something to do with an ensuing romance and marriage a year or so later. They were there together Saturday, sitting in front near Gerry Beck, who also designed the 1969 production.

People who talk to people who aren't there are usually considered crazy, or they were before cell phones. But at least since Hamlet chatted with his father's ghost, mixing real and fantasy characters on stage has become part of the playwright's arsenal (even reputed realist Arthur Miller felt constrained to point out that Willy Loman's fantasy conversations in Death of a Salesman were daring in their time), and since the days of Thirtysomethingand Northern Exposure it's become standard practice for TV dramas.

This weekend, North Coast Rep stages Jake's Womenby Neil Simon, in which a fifty-something writer is visited by real and imagined versions of the women in his life. NCRT's Artistic Director Michael Thomas plays Jake, and his women include Kim Hodell, Theresa Ireland, Susa Lambert Bowser, Shelley Stewart and singer Jolene Hayes in her first play. James Read, familiar locally as an actor, directs for the first time in six years. "I love the premise of the show, how it's structured, how it's written," he said, explaining why he took it on. "It's got parts for seven women that are all great, and it's rare to find a play with great parts for women."

This is Neil Simon's later, less joke-dependent, drama-with-comedy style. Trying to resolve a crisis of relationships, Jake has actual or conjured conversations with his current squeeze, the wife he divorced and the wife who died a decade before, his sister, his analyst and his daughter. Some are seen at different times in their lives, and some meet in fantasy as they didn't in life. "All of these fantasy and reality scenes are woven together," Read said. "Basically it's about a man who uses them to sort out what he needs to do in his life, and how sometimes fantasy and reality collide."

They may collide for the audience, too, Read said, and figuring out which is which is part of the show's fun. It starts at NCRT Thursday, Jan. 25, and plays until Feb. 17.

Add a comment