Celia Wren checks into the dance-theater weave “The Dream Dancer,” and Maia Silber reviews teens with moxie (and an original drama) who got into this summer’s characteristically rangy Capital Fringe Festival.

“The Dream Dancer”

You don’t expect the elderly magician to strike a John Travolta-style disco pose. But then, you didn’t expect him to launch into a dance with jittery footwork. And the high-stepping march he’s breaking out now, as candy colors suffuse the backdrop and the air reverberates with snippets of popular music from decades past — that’s a surprise, too.

The dance-theater production “The Dream Dancer” often feels wan or underdeveloped, but every now and then, creator/performers John Giffin (an original member of Pina Bausch’s Tanztheater Wuppertal) and Jeanine Thompson deliver a bracing twist. Such is the case with the choreographic sequence described above, a key transition in a tale of magic, chicanery, hypnotism and the struggle between the sexes.

In a contemporary framing narrative, we meet the magician, Señor Juan (Giffin), who is auditioning a potential assistant with the planned stage name Yolanda (Thompson). After an eerie revelation, the two acquaintances travel back in time (a journey evoked partly through that disco pose and other movements).

In 1888 Paris and 1904 Munich, Señor Juan seems to transform into pioneering neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot and professor/hypnotist Emile Magnin (both real historical figures), while Yolanda becomes the scholars’ female subjects. And then, suddenly, the women — or is it just one woman? — turn the tables on the domineering men.

Featuring music by Wagner, Richard Strauss and others, “The Dream Dancer” is obviously well researched. (Giffin and Thompson are faculty members — emeritus, in Giffin’s case — at Ohio State University. Giffin conceived the show.) And it is clever in the way it uses dance and movement to address the themes of power and gender: An ironic spin on Salome’s “Dance of the Seven Veils” is delightful.

But some stretches are slow or slack. And one wishes for more dance: Could you ask for that, Salome, in lieu of a head on a platter?

-Celia Wren

60 minutes. July 12, 13, 20 and 22 at Gallaudet University’s Elstad Auditorium, 800 Florida Ave. NE.


For many high school students, the prospect of presenting a project in front of the classroom brings on paroxysms of fear. So rising seniors Nathaniel Klein and Madison Middleton deserve credit for taking their play, “Morningstar,” to the D.C. Capital Fringe Festival. Especially because “Morningstar,” a mostly one-man show whose lead has a dissociative psychotic break, would be a difficult act to pull off even for a more experienced theater group.

“Morningstar,” written by Klein, opens in a nuclear fallout shelter an hour before rockets are set to hit Washington, D.C. In the last minutes before the attack, “Wren Maslow,” the engineer who built the shelter and may or may not have launched the missiles, confronts his demons. Klein plays all three versions of the engineer’s self — “Song,” a child, “Mas,” a teenager,” and “Wren,” an adult — as they battle inside his head.

Unfortunately, this interesting premise doesn’t quite come off. It takes a while to grasp what’s happening: Klein’s monologue (dialogue?) tends toward the abstract and circuitous, and often breaks down into shouted exchanges of expletives. Klein marks the different iterations of his character with exaggerated vocal and behavioral tics; Wren speaks in a stilted monotone, Mas rants and shakes, and Song delivers his lines in a timid, trembling voice. All three voices become grating after a while.

But Klein and Middleton (who directed the production) have potential. Though Middleton appears only briefly on stage via video projection as Mas’s girlfriend, Delilah, it’s clear that she has some acting talent. And both teens show a willingness to tackle heavy themes and experiment with stagecraft.

-Maia Silber

60 minutes. July 15 and 16 at Shopkeepers, 1231 Florida Ave. NE.

IF YOU GO: Fringe tickets $17, plus one-time purchase of a $7 Fringe button. Available online at www.capitalfringe.org, 866-811-4111 and at Fringe venues.