Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Lathe of Heaven
Adapted and directed by Edward Einhorn
Based on the book by Ursula K. Le Guin
With original music by Henry Akona
Untitled Theater Company No. 61
At the 3LD Art and Technology Center

Submitted by Science Fiction and Other ODDysseys Play Critic, Clare Deming

A few blocks off Broadway, in lower Manhattan, a man dreams. George Orr is the dreamer, the central character of a new adaptation of Ursula K. Le Guin's award-winning novel, The Lathe of Heaven. The show opened this past weekend at the 3LD Art and Technology Center.

When George dreams, he awakens to a reality that has been changed by the events of his dream. These "effective" dreams terrify George, for they are often nightmarish, and he cannot control them. When he awakens, no one else is aware of the changes, which are frequently retroactive, creating new memories and life experiences for those affected. Only George sees both the old and the new realities.

George has tried to suppress his "effective" dreams by taking drugs obtained through illegal channels. To avoid prosecution for the drug charges, he enters voluntary therapy. Dr. Haber is an oneirologist; he studies dreams. The doctor believes that Mr. Orr needs his dreams, and uses his invention, the Augmentor, to help guide the dreams, to try to force them into safer patterns. When Dr. Haber activates the Augmentor, George sleeps, and any suggestions that the doctor makes, translate to his dreams.

Soon enough, the Augmentor takes effect, and the benign suggestions of Dr. Haber manifest as new realities. The initial alterations are simple - the photo of Mt. Hood on the wall of the office is replaced by that of a horse. George is not pleased by the treatment methods of Dr. Haber, fearing additional deviations to reality, and consults with Heather Le Lache, a civil rights lawyer. She agrees to inspect Dr. Haber's practice and the Augmentor device. Yet despite this and George's other attempts to dissuade the doctor from making further dream suggestions, the changes cascade from his mind and into the waking world.

The story continues in this vein, but the changes become more serious. Weather, history, and politics, and the families, background, and motivations of the other characters all suffer. Eventually, the play compares the dream state to reality, and the audience is left to wonder: "Who is the dreamer? Who is the dream?" This is a recurring theme and the ultimate question asked by the story.

The original music by Henry Akona was a fitting accompaniment to the show, with musicians on piano, cello, and vocals. A few vocal passages stretched longer than I felt necessary, since the words were repetitive, but the quality of the performance was superb. The music matched the emotional state of the dreamer well, and also gave clear cues to complement the shifts in reality.

The set was simple, but effective. I particularly liked the way that different images were projected on the semi-opaque backdrops. Shifting brain scans were used to simulate the functions of the Augmentor. The fluctuating images also allowed the "effective" dreaming to change the set around the characters in smooth transitions. Also, the musicians could be seen through the screens when the lighting shifted to focus upon them.

I enjoyed the show, although I have not read the original book and cannot comment on how faithful the script is to that text. However, coming to watch the production with no prior knowledge of this work, I had no difficulty following any of the ideas therein.

The theater was warm, but I believe that air conditioning may soon be available. A selection of refreshments was available for purchase - water, soda, and beer.

The Lathe of Heaven is playing through June 30, Wednesday through Saturday at 8 pm, and Sundays at 5 pm, with additional shows on Saturday, June 23 and June 30 at 3pm. Ticket prices range between $25-40 and can be purchased through www.untitledtheater.com or by calling (212) 352-3101.


ProvidenceMine said...

I had heard about this production playing in NYC. I would really like to try to get tickets for this! It's too bad that intelligent speculative fiction isn't done much in the theatre, as I think it would lend itself beautifully to the stage. The theater allows for the audience to get involved with the story in a more visceral level, and it allows both the viewer and the director to tap into their imagination in a way that film simply doesn't. Film gives so much to the viewer by way of special effects, film angles, and the like, that sometimes you feel as if you are being forced fed Hollywood Food. It can get to be a bit much. Thank you for this entry.

Maurice Mitchell said...

Anne, what a wild idea. Hopefully it will go on tour so I can see it.