DEEP IN A DREAM OF YOU
at the Goodman Studio Theatre
at Puszh Studios
I felt a little uneasy going into David Cale's Deep in a Dream of You--not because of anything I was afraid to learn, but because of all I'd already forgotten. Even though I'd seen Cale three years ago--when he performed his solo work The Redthroats at the Goodman Studio Theatre--I couldn't remember a single moment from that show. This was very odd. I mean, I may naturally forget bits and pieces of a performance, or distort it over time, but I don't often have the whole thing just evanesce on me. Especially not when the artist's name and the circumstances of his last appearance are so near at hand. Especially not when friends are bringing him up in conversation, saying how much they're looking forward to his new run at the Goodman, and didn't I love the last one?
Well, maybe I did and maybe I didn't. I couldn't really say. And that seemed like a bad sign.
Now that I've seen Deep in a Dream of You, my memory's come back. I can recall some of the earlier show, and I have a pretty clear idea of why I forgot it. The reason isn't too exciting; I wasn't suppressing any profoundly traumatic response. The Redthroats didn't overpower me and leave me staggering through the Monroe Street parking garage babbling, a psychosexual hole in my head. No, I probably forgot The Redthroats for the same reason I'm likely to forget Deep in a Dream of You before long: as smart, sure, stylish, and sophisticated as it is, it somehow never finds anything more than a terribly narrow strip of emotional reality in which to ground itself. Cale tends this strip with enormous care and ingenuity, but what comes up is inevitably a little wan, a little thin. A watery piece of work--lacking distinctive flavors.
Not that Cale doesn't offer as much variety as he can. The piece consists of 13 monologues, running from a sunbather's erotic reverie to a teenage boy's recollection of getting humped by a sailor; from a lonely man's idyll with his escort-service date to a startled yup's realization that, yes, she actually likes her lumpen hunk of a boyfriend; and from the blow-by-blow at the 40 Winks Motel to a valedictory on a dead lover.
That so much diversity fails to come across as diversity is due in large part to the homogenizing influence of Cale's stage persona. A multicharacter artist like Eric Bogosian virtually attacks his audience with disguise and transformation--which can lead to a lot of Sammy Davis-like ain't-I-talented showboating, but also goes a long way toward differentiating among personalities and situations. Cale is much more reticent. Moves little. Eschews props. Doesn't manipulate his voice much. Though this serves his psychological intentions--suggesting the sexual ambiguity of most of his characters; emphasizing the ruminative, introspective quality of most of their speeches; highlighting the protean sexual life under the skin--it tends to flatten out the evening as well.
Add to this Roy Nathanson's live jazz score--which, despite its clear brilliance, tends to contribute to the sense of Deep in a Dream of You as a single texture rather than many--and you've got a show that keeps sliding toward blandness even as it seems to pursue diversity.
The real problem, however, is that the work would probably continue to slide toward blandness even if Nathanson broke into Sousa every so often and Cale tap-danced and wore different masks. Because the show just keeps trying to work that same narrow strip of emotional reality, and there's only so much that will grow there.
For all its 13 visions, Deep in a Dream of You really offers only one perception--a single idea having to do with the ambivalence of love. Whether it's the teenager lying under his sailor or the yup caressing her hunk or the guy at the 40 Winks discovering new applications for maple syrup, attraction is always and ever a form of betrayal: One finds oneself surrendering to feelings and people that are at once repulsive and liberating. Ugly and full of allure. One finds oneself, basically, finding oneself--in places and arms where one thought one wouldn't have been caught dead.
Yes, it's a neat insight. True, too. But it grows tedious in the repetition, and Cale never finds a way to fill it out or twist it up or extend it beyond what eventually begins to seem like a facile set of variations. And so his Dream fades and becomes easy to forget.
The Bribe hasn't so much as one perception to cover its 45-minute length. A kid's show about an imperturbable young Simpleton and his adventures in the world, The Bribe never falls back on ethics, human nature, or even coherence when it can resort to mugging, dancing, and magic tricks instead. Good policy.
There's room here for some fine clowning by Bob Schiele, some convincing glowering by Vito Bitondo, some graceful fighting by Jenine Smith and Steven Welsh, as well as some utterly arbitrary but jolly dancing by a company of five under the supervision of Lissa Chaloff. Patricia "Pat in the Hat" O'Donnell should leave off narrating and stick to couture--but she's a fairly minor distraction, and anyway, everything comes out just right in the end.