Boy Basement Battles The Demons of Sleep | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Boy Basement Battles The Demons of Sleep


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Curious Theatre Branch

"Thoom thoom thoom" is an onomatopoeic approximation of the sound of the voice of Gog. Gog is a close relation to God. God is a mirror image of dog. Perhaps "Thoom thoom thoom" like Gog like God requires a leap of faith. --program note for Boy Basement Battles the Demons of Sleep

I read it, then I read it again. And then I read it again. Finally I got it. Beau O'Reilly, who wrote Boy Basement Battles the Demons of Sleep, has a penchant for this kind of poetic prose, with lots of tongue-tripping consonants and dense images and a logic that dances around rather than walking straight from one point to another. It makes for fun reading but a frustrating evening of theater. You can get lost in O'Reilly's fog of metaphors and other poetic gobbledygook. And in live performance, there isn't a second time around.

In another program note O'Reilly wisely advises the audience to relax. He admits that his characters speak an odd language and explains that dreams--the setting for his protagonist's strange odyssey--"are often funny and rarely reasonable." He's just so nice about the whole thing, it's difficult to criticize him. But Boy Basement Battles the Demons of Sleep is not easy to follow, and it's hard to get beyond that fact.

Basically, Boy Basement is about a teenage boy, Boy Basement, who sleeps incessantly in the basement of the Basement home. He sleeps because he likes to dream. To him, his dreams--full of worms, muddy bogs, birds, and evil seductresses--represent an important odyssey, one that will bring him to a deeper understanding of life. Well, the rest of the Basements don't see this. Mother and Father can only worry about the disintegration of the family dinner hour. The brothers and sisters Basement rebel against their parents for their ineffectiveness. It takes a nasty cousin, God Awful Basement, to actually do something about Boy's sleeping.

Boy Basement is also a musical, with music by Jenny Magnus, O'Reilly's partner in Maestro Subgum and the Whole. Maestro's quirky style is evident throughout the play: eerie songs with zippy dance bits, cynical humor, and a certain beautiful ugliness. The whole play, including the music, has a subterranean feel, heightened by the fact that Curious Theatre's new space actually is a basement. The colors in Michael Colligan's whimsical set have a moldy patina. Costumes deliberately look as if they've been stored too long in the basement. Lighting is dim.

Encapsulated in one paragraph, the action of this play might seem pretty easy to follow. What makes the play difficult is that the entire Basement family is suffering from some ill-defined angst, and you can't tell what is reality, what is a dream, and what is simply the exploration of the family psyche. The music, lighting, and set, which give an odd, dreamlike air to the production, blur the distinctions even more.

The Curious Theatre Branch doesn't have a lot of money, but its members are never lazy and they're full of boundless creativity. Instead of paring down this production and clarifying O'Reilly's lavish script, they embellish it with music and design elements. Yet Benjamin Rayner in the title role runs through his lines as if he doesn't understand them, as do the rest of the ensemble at times. Perhaps O'Reilly's script would have worked better simply recited on a bare white stage. Perhaps it's only meant for the page. Watching this production feels like being caught in somebody else's dream and never understanding why you're there.

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