'A Dream Play' creates unique, transcendent vision on stage

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Robert Wilson isn't the world's most popular stage director, and he wouldn't want to be, since that would mean toning down the radical style - with nonlinear plots, evanescent colors, and slow-motion gestures - that make all his works distinctive from the moment the curtain goes up.

He is one of the world's busiest stage directors, though, bringing his brand of magic to an enormous number of plays, operas, avant-garde spectacles, and other projects each year.

Audiences who appreciate his approach seek out his offerings around the world, so it's not surprising that his latest show - a stunning production of "A Dream Play," by August Strindberg - originated at Stockholm's Stadsteater. It opened at the Next Wave Festival at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, earlier this week to rapturous applause.

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It's impossible to summarize the plot of "A Dream Play," which is as unearthly as its title promises. The action centers on a visit to earth by the Hindu sky goddess, who wants to learn the joys and sorrows of human life.

She comes into contact with various people, places, and events during her stay - characters include a pompous student, an elusive lover, troubled family members, and several public officials - and then heads back to heaven. The most difficult aspect of living as a person, she admits at the end, was having her awareness bounded by the limitations of mere human senses.

Strindberg created some very naturalistic plays during his career, but in works like "A Dream Play" and "The Ghost Sonata" he took a different tack, treating language exactly the way Wilson usually does - not as a tool for communication but as a collection of arbitrary objects called words, which can be used any way we like, be this rational and reasonable or precisely the opposite.

"A Dream Play" is unconcerned with cause-and-effect reality, mixing memories and reveries with flights of intellectual fancy and occasional moments that come close to prayer.

Wilson lets his imagination soar, crafting a series of tableaux, fantasies, and controlled hallucinations - plus an occasional comedy routine - that fills the stage with wonder throughout the show's three-hour running time. As in his previous work over the past 30-plus years, he's less concerned with narrative and psychology than with building transcendent visions out of stagebound materials.

Wilson isn't hesitant about benefiting from the skills of other fine artists. Some are legendary figures from the past - such as Edvard Munch, whose haunting image known as "The Scream" appears to have influenced certain facial expressions here - and others are contemporaries who worked on the show. They include Ann-Christin Rommen, who codirected it; Andreas Fuchs, who codesigned the superb lighting; and especially Michael Galasso, whose eclectic music enhances its moods and atmospheres.

In the end, though, this is Wilson's achievement since every minute bears his trademarked touch. He is still one of the towering artists of our time.

'A Dream Play' continues at New York's BAM through Sunday, and the Next Wave runs through Dec. 10.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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