The Gothic Theater: Supernatural & the Grotesque in Dream Up 2016

The Gothic Theater

While ghosts, ghouls and other Gothic monsters prefer to dwell in dark crypts and ominous graveyards, they have been known to frequent the theater.

It’s a shame that horror is almost exclusively associated with cinema in the contemporary artistic sphere, because theater has been known to produce genuinely horrifying and thrilling productions. Horror has been making a push into the theater scene, a charge led primarily by the British. There have been highly successful productions of “The Woman in Black” in London’s West End and “Titus Andronicus” at the Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in the past few years, inspiring a influx of horror and thriller plays. The Dream Up Festival 2016 is presenting a thriller play that exists within the same genre, but one that is distinctly American; “The House of Setting Sun” by Thomas Blakeley.

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“The House of Setting Sun” is a southern Gothic thriller musical. Now there’s a genre that deserves to enter common parlance. “Hello producer, I hope you’ll look at my manuscript, it is a southern Gothic thriller musical.” It is a musical closely connected with the Gothic tradition, particularly the Gothic themes explored in literature from the genre written in the American south. Embodying themes of decay and grotesqueness, “The House of Setting Sun” engages the supernatural through the character Eudora, a mystic who travels with a carnival. She is consulted by Victor, a southern gentleman, to help communicate with the spirits of his murdered parents in an attempt to deduce the identity of their killers. Scared yet? You will be. The musical uses both visual and audio techniques to entrap the reader in the world, keeping them tense and engaged in the imminent fall of Victor’s house.

The play draws inspiration from many literary stories within the Gothic genre. The most obvious would have to be Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher.” The play utilizes the setting of a dilapidated southern estate, namely Evenfall Plantation. A far cry from the once glorious days of the old south, this ruinous manor is the stage for the characters to toil against insurmountable odds. The underscore of gloom and doom drives the plot, allowing the audience to know that there is no such thing as a happy ending. Constant parallels are drawn between the Gothic setting and the post-bellum south, invoking nostalgia for a southern society before the American Civil War, like many southern-Gothic writers like William Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor have done before.

Musically, “The House of Setting Sun” draws on a wide range of styles and genres, all of which are composed and organized to emulate the sounds of the Jazz Age, in which the story takes place. Five composers with varying backgrounds and styles collaborated on the musical, resulting in a diverse range of tunes that evoke a melancholic nostalgia and tense anticipation.

“The House of Setting Sun” will premiere at TNC on August 28 at 8:00 PM in the Johnson Theater. For a full performance schedule, ticket prices, and more info about the play or the festival, please visit www.dreamupfestival.org. For more information about “The House of Setting Sun,” please visit http://evenfall.strikingly.com/.

So long and goodnight.

By Tim Esteves

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Dream Up Returns

The annual Dream Up Festival returns to Theater for the New City for its newest season. The Festival annually presents fifteen to twenty new works of theater, with participants from genres of drama, comedy, musicals, experimental theater, physical theater, dance, and staged journalism and non-fiction plays. This year, the Dream Up festival has a range of enticing and challenging new works. Here’s a preview of some of the particularly interesting ideas that crossed our desk.

The play “Alpha 66” by Robby Ramos is a drama set in a Cuban prison during the Cuban Missile Crisis in the 1960s. It follows the story of Papo, a pro-Castro revolutionary as he is Alpha66postercalled into the prison in order to interrogate his brother, Rafa, who stands accused of distributing posters of Che Guevara in drag. A work of historical fiction, “Alpha 66” raises questions about duty and family, and how long the bonds of loyalty can hold out under pressure from an omnipotent, oppressive regime. The play arrives at an interesting time, considering a resurgent interest in Cuban culture and politics, following the easing of travel and trading restriction imposed upon the island nation by the United States for nearly half a century. Audiences are invited to view the workings of the Cuban government from the viewpoint of a family caught up in it, all while enjoying newly imported Cuban rum and cigars (finally!).

Another notable participant is “The Joint,” a musical with book by Curtis Jones. This play is set in 1960s Virginia, and features a rocking soundtrack reminiscent of the times. The story follows the young Corrida trying to get back on her feet after a failed career as a singer in New York. She is dragged into a web of secrets, intrigue and romance under the roof of The Joint, a juke club located under her house that has become a point of gathering for the community. With music composed by Timothy Graphenreed of “The Wiz” and choreography by industry veteran and tony award winner Kenneth L. Roberson, “The Joint” promises to be a wild and lively ride through the 1960s.

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“Missamma” performed in Dallas, Texas on March 27, 2016. L-R: Gayathria Kandadai, Kalyani Siddhartha, Rajeswari Udayagiri, Vijaya Bhaskar Rayavaram, Uttej Akupatni. Photo by Bytegraph Productions.

 

“Missamma” is a play written and performed in Telugu, a South Indian Language, with English subtitles, based off the 1955 movie of the same name. “Missamma” follows the story of two Indian immigrants of different religions in 1970s America, who, in order to find employment, must pretend to be a married couple. As the plot thickens, the two begin to develop feelings for one another, while a local detective uncovers a secret that changes their lives forever. Written as a comedy, the play is a family production, accessible to English-speaking audience with humor that is inspired by film legend Charlie Chaplin.

Ivette Dumeng as Charlie Chaplin

“The Chaplin Plays” Ivette Dumeng as Charlie Chaplin. Photo courtesy of Nylon Fusion Theatre Company.

Speaking of Charlie Chaplin, Dream Up is also presenting “The Chaplin Plays: A Double Feature,” by Don Nigro. Performed by Ivette Dumeng of the Nylon Fusion Theatre Company, “The Chaplin Plays” present two new short plays featuring the likeness of everybody’s famous tramp, bowler hat and mustache and all. Both plays explore the question of identity, and follow Chaplin’s ideas about life, death and, oddly enough, monkeys from Siberia. Abandon everything you thought you knew about Chaplin before strolling into this production.

All of these plays will premiere as part of the Dream Up Festival 2016 at Theater for the New City. We invite you to join us from August 28 to September 18 for these plays and more! For information about scheduling, ticket prices, and performance reservations, please visit http://www.dreamupfestival.org.

See you then, and never stop dreaming!

By Tim Esteves