By Peter Marks
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 25, 2008
Weird, wild, nasty stuff is afoot in the basement of a secluded house, where four acquaintances are locked in with the corpse of a fifth. No one seems to know what to do with the body, which is wrapped in an afghan and shows signs of brutal treatment -- any more than they can figure out who among them might be the killer.
The premise has all the earmarks of a classic Agatha Christie. Except that the issue here might not be whodunit so much as who-dreamt-it.
"Dream Sailors," a shaggy-doggish, four-part thriller that continues to unfold over a few weeks, is Rorschach Theatre's world-premiere detour from the normal to the paranormal. Playwright Randy Baker, who is also one of Rorschach's artistic directors, has accomplished something on the order of storyboarding a promising video game. What transpires before you doesn't always make sense, and the conventional cliffhanger endings Baker appends to each episode feel like cop-outs.
But I must confess that for all the narrative flaws in the first two 50-minute installments, I sort of got hooked. Just trying to keep up with what's going on makes the game diverting.
The 10-member ensemble, under the spunky direction of Colin Hovde, rolls out a new episode each week in Rorschach's temporary headquarters, the Davis Performing Arts Center on the campus of Georgetown University. (On the final Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 16-17, all four episodes will be run in order.)
A large classroom has been transformed with economical precision by set designer Hannah J. Crowell into a performance space for the serialized play, its locality alternating between the basement where four young men and women are trapped with the body, and a dreamscape marked by curtains of feathery white threads.
The bond shared by the four -- slacker Daryl (Tony Bullock), brilliant Jon (Rex Daugherty), high-strung Terry (Casie Platt) and disciplined Kendra (Lindsay Haynes) -- is in their leisure-time pursuit of "lucid dreaming," a state in which the dreamer is aware that he or she is dreaming and can in a sense participate in the dream. These fantastical sequences -- lucid dreamers apparently train themselves to pass at will into a dream state -- are supposed to unlock keys to the murder. If, in fact, a murder has been committed.
Coincidentally, a really creepy guy with a serious need for a visit to the dermatologist continually pops up in the lucid dreams that each of the young people initiate to get to the bottom of the crime. (One of the plot weaknesses concerns the circumstances of their confinement; somehow they've managed to lock themselves in a basement that has no phones and has bars on the windows and a broken Commodore 64 computer.)
The creep, played by Grady Weatherford, glares menacingly and seems to desire something from each of the dreamers. You'll have to wait, though -- no doubt, until Episode 4 -- to learn exactly why he's skulking around, and what that has to do with the body in the afghan.
The actors take the material very seriously, which is a credit to all of them, especially since they have to look stunned at the hokey climaxes, when someone else pulls a gun or looks around and shouts, "Where's Jon?" Iraq, lesbians, semiotics and laser tag also figure in "Dream Sailors," which might not always be lucid but is inventive enough to keep you guessing.
Dream Sailors, by Randy Baker. Directed by Colin Hovde. Costumes, Heather M. Lockard; set, Hannah J. Crowell; lighting, John Burkland; sound, Christopher Baine. With Lee Liebiskind, Ghillian Porter, Sarah Taurchini, Amanda Thickpenny, Shane Wallis. Presented in four episodes, each running about 50 minutes. Through Aug. 17 at Davis Performing Arts Center, Georgetown University. Visit http://www.boxofficetickets.com/rorschach.