"When We Dead Awaken" has a companion piece across the river in Boston: "Robert Wilson's Vision" at the Museum of Fine Arts. Designed by Wilson, the exhibit shows off his highly developed sense of play. Not play as silliness but play as concentration, curiosity, invention: what Picasso meant when he said he wanted to learn to draw as a child again. There's an anarchy in play more subversive than mere revolution. Wilson isn't a rule-breaker -- he breaks through to the place where the rules haven't been invented yet.
The show is a walk through three spaces -- white and brightly lit, gray and subtly lit, black and mostly dark -- filled with his props, sketches, pieces of sets, models of sets, and permeated with Hans Peter Kuhn's "environmental" sound. It's like being able to stroll through a Wilson production at your own pace. You can stop to admire the wit and beauty of the pieces, to look closely at what on a stage would be distant and nondetailed. With objects floating overhead, little doors at your feet and rockets flying by -- but slowly, so that you can go right up and stare at the miniature blinking red lights -- the exhibit is something of a magician's trunk, or an extremely sophisticated and beautiful version of "Pee-wee's Playhouse."
But if Wilson's props are toys, they're enchanted toys: a little queer, full of multiple meanings. The visitor comes upon a tiny half-open door sculpted of bright metal (copper? bronze?): a doll's house door with no doll's house. If you wanted to peer through it, you'd have to lie on your stomach. It's like the tiny door in "Alice in Wonderland" that Alice is much too big to fit through. Is it half open or half shut? Which way is in, which out? What was it meant for? A squirrel? A ray of light? Is it too small or are you too large? Why are you even standing there wondering about it -- because of its small perfection? Wilson is a master of perspective and proportion, and his objects are in and of themselves beautiful, impossible not to gaze at.
Near the little door, which is a prop from "Orlando," sits a prop from "Parzifal" -- "a Chair with a Shadow." The chair is maple polished till it looks like silk; its "shadow," an appendage that mimics the chair's right side, is black, highly laminated plastic. The chair is "about" a lot of things. The tactile warmth of the maple vs. the dull, cool plastic. The old vs. the modern. The handcrafted vs. the manufactured. The sense in which the present is a shadow thrown by the past. You can look a long way down into Wilson's images and never quite see the bottoms of their meanings.
The journey through the three rooms has its obvious symbolic meaning as a move from light to dark, the conscious to the unconscious. But Wilson remains a practical man of the theater too. Walking from a room full of props to a room full of set models and sketches to a room with theatrical lighting and pieces of a moving set, one also experiences the stages of creating a production. "Robert Wilson's Vision" is the perfect curtain-raiser for "When We Dead Awaken."