*Actually, because Backstage is a normal place in the year 2012, we do this sort of thing all the time.
Dream or nightmare?
“Dreaming takes these very vivid images to point out the consequences of what you’re thinking or feeling,” said Kathleen Akerley, Longacre Lea artistic director and author of “Goldfish Thinking,” which had its world premiere Aug. 16. “People go: ‘I don’t want to have a dream in which I’m about to be executed. I’m going to tell that dream to stop.’ But your brain has a good reason for providing you with that information.”
“Goldfish Thinking” is about a law student who dreams she’s been accused of murder and is going to be executed. The nightmare starts to have repercussions in her waking life — hallucinations, speech she can’t explain — and she finds herself needing to solve a murder mystery to save her life.
Even though dreams are personal by nature, Akerley, who has been writing down her dreams since she was a teenager, isn’t worried about the play connecting with a wider audience. “There are images that I think are roughly universal,” she said. “My social circle all know to call me up if they have a weird dream, and I’ve managed to spot some commonalities: related to water, mechanized forward motion . . . whether you’re a person driving or a passenger. . . . So there are enough things I can include in the play that the audience can subconsciously nod, ‘Ah, yes, this is where we are.’ ”
Akerley wasn’t always convinced it was possible to portray dreams onstage, but she’s come around, using lighting and sound-design cues to create “a kind of recognizable sonic incoherence.” Her goal is to strike a middle ground between “so weird the audience goes, ‘That’s a mistake,’ ” and “so normal, like the movie ‘Inception’ which, to me, was just one step off normal.”
She’s tapping into her memories of attending Georgetown Law with cutthroat classmates (she calls them “the pit bulls of law school”) to create the law school in the show. “It was just a really unpleasant environment,” she said, where she “got booted from the library first year” because she was laughing while reading “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” on a study break.
“In some ways, [the play is] just silly good fun. It’s Agatha Christie, suspects in the parlor scene, all that good stuff,” she said. “But the core issue is the strange task of using our own brains to solve our brains. ‘Goldfish Thinking’ is meant to be a reference to the idea of being in the bowl of your own brain.”