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Previews: 09/18/13- Close: 10/13/13 The Dead Dream Machine
Reviewed for TheaterOnline.com By: Ashley Griffin

“Dead Dream Machine” is a really cool idea. “…Dream Machine” seeks to follow in the vein/combine elements of such fantastic horror shows as “Play Dead,” (Nightmarish magic) “Cirque Berzerk,” (Nightmarish circus arts) and even “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” (Comic ode to nightmarish B sci-fi films.) Performed in an obscure warehouse/theater in Brooklyn – perfectly setting the ambiance – “…Dream Machine” tells the story of four teenagers who sneak into an abandoned theater hoping to uncover the roots of the “terrible incident” that allegedly occurred there decades before. They discover the gothly “Riff Raff” like Impresario (the wonderful Eric Schmalenberger – the stand out of the cast) who tells them that the theater is home to an abandoned Dream Machine – created long ago by a magician who was attempting to literally bring dreams to life. The Impresario has of course rebuilt the machine, one of the teenagers volunteers to be the “dreamer” who will activate it, and the rest of the show is comprised of un related sketches (dreams the young girl is apparently having) that are at once comic, and dark.

At least, I’m pretty sure that’s what was going on.

The problem with “…Dream Machine” is, while it has lofty aspirations (the show uses magic and circus arts to create the girl's gothic nightmares) it lacks the skill and craft of Teller (“Play Dead”) and Zehner and Berrent (“Cirque Berzerk.”) In the right hands this show could have been very beautiful, thought provoking, and scary. As it is, the show is rather incoheisive, bordering on amateur. After the show I commented to my friend (who attended with me:) “It kind of jumped the shark, didn’t it?” “It didn’t jump the shark,” he replied, “It grand jeted over it.” I could sense there was something up at the pre show curtain speech where we were encouraged several times to clap, and vocally acknowledge our appreciation and excitement. This was not a Broadway theater full of elderly audience members waiting to watch an Ibsen play – this was an audience of 20-somethings who trekked out to Bushwick, Brooklyn in the rain to see a gothic nightmare show. WE need encouragement?

Turns out, we did. 

It is in fact the designers who save the show. The script (by Jake Thomas), while flirting with interesting ideas (many of the scenes feel like the set ups for very interesting “Twilight Zone” episodes) gets very muddy very quickly. We’re never quite sure what’s going on – why are these the dreams the girl is having? Why are all her dreams nightmares? Is this show meant to be a comedy? Or actually scare us? The director/choreographer (Rachel Klein) doesn’t seem to be any clearer on these questions. (Speaking of choreography – there were some nicely choreographed moments using aerial acrobatics – however, no aerial choreographer is credited…)

The design elements however were wonderful. I was able to invest in the show far more then I would have if I wasn’t enjoying looking at everything so much. Evan Collier gave us a fantastic scenic design, and Sean Gill’s sound and video design covered a multitude of sins. The costume design by Juanita Cardenas (with RKP Costume Collection) was lovely, and the puppets by Elena Delgato were awesome to watch. Special props have to go to the make up – but unfortunately no make up designer was credited.

The cast was serviceable, but honestly (especially given the way they were listed in the program) it was hard to tell who was who – part of the reason why it’s difficult to single anyone out by name.

All in all, I’m not sure if “…Dream Machine” quite knows what it wants to be. But whatever that is, it needs to get some highly skilled artists on board to really bring the level of magic and circus that such an idea warrants. The story needs to be much clearer, and there needs to be something for us to invest in. Or, barring that, several things that really scare the hell out of us. But hey, I’ll take a grand jete over a shark to a generic “jump” any day. 

Venue:
La Luz : 135 Thames Street