Theatre @ York’s season culminates with Strindberg’s ‘A Dream Play’

Dream Play
Dream Play

Theatre @ York’s 2016-17 season, focusing on the theme of Extraordinary Lives: Difference and Ability, culminates with a compelling contemporary take on A Dream Play by Swedish playwright August Strindberg, directed by David di Giovanni. The show previews March 12 and 13, opens on Tuesday, March 14 and runs until Saturday, March 18 in the Joseph G. Green Studio Theatre at York University’s Keele campus.

In the play, Agnes, a daughter of the gods, falls from heaven to Earth. Theatre @ York’s version has Agnes as a war journalist who is hospitalized for suicidal tendencies and clinical depression, and the play is framed as if she is dreaming it

Strindberg, who wrote the play in 1901 following a period of ill mental health, stated that it reflects “the disconnected but apparently logical form of a dream. Everything can happen; everything is possible.”

Wild and whirling, sometimes bleak and sometimes funny, A Dream Play is ultimately enchanting. Characters multiply, divide and coalesce, just as they might in a dream. Inside the frenzy of multiple characters and storylines that jump between memory and real time resonates a central chord of hope.

In the play, Agnes, a daughter of the gods, falls from heaven to Earth. Curious, she decides to investigate whether all our complaining about human suffering has merit. Endeavouring to become more human, she marries, has children, goes on vacation, but over time the sting of living becomes potent. She decides she must return to heaven – only to realize that she cannot.

“Our Agnes is a war journalist who is hospitalized for suicidal tendencies and clinical depression, and we’re framing the play as if she is dreaming it,” di Giovanni said. “Over the course of her dream, she has to reframe her existence in order to begin to rebuild her life.”

Di Giovanni sets the play in 2008 – a time, he notes, of tremendous hope and despair, with Barack Obama’s “Yes We Can,” but also the year of the stock market crash, a declining manufacturing sector, the continuing “war on terror” and Canadian forces in Afghanistan.

“Today, in 2017, we’re still living with the repercussions and detritus of that turning point,” said di Giovanni. “And so, in keeping with our season’s theme of difference and ability, our production explores the invisible disabilities that may affect how we live our lives: what we might call mental illness, clinical depression, PTSD or even spiritual dampening. We’re looking at the challenges many of us face in interacting with society.”

headshot of "A Dream Play" director David di Giovanni

David di Giovanni

For A Dream Play, di Giovanni directs a talented cast drawn from York University’s fourth-year and graduate acting conservatories. All elements of set, costume, lighting and sound are designed and executed by undergraduate theatre production students.

Di Giovanni’s directing credits include Body So Fluorescent (Rhubarb Festival, Toronto, 2016), Holy Tranity! (Café Cléopâtre, Montreal, 2013), Play it Again, Phaedra and MAP Season One (Mainline Theatre, Montreal, 2011-12), and The Last Days of Karl Nimeni (ARENA… der jungen Künste festival, Erlangen, Germany, 2012). He has worked extensively with Montreal’s MAP Project as a dramaturg, and has led numerous workshops on physical theatre. He is currently an MFA candidate in York University’s Graduate Program in Theatre.

With Extraordinary Lives: Difference and Ability, York’s Department of Theatre is working with members of the wider arts community to challenge traditionally ableist modes of making theatre, guided by an advisory panel of prominent deaf, mad and “crip” artists who are serving as facilitators for the season. As part of this commitment, relaxed and ASL interpreted performances have become an integral feature of Theatre @ York’s mainstage productions.

A Dream Play runs March 12 to 18 at 7:30pm nightly, plus matinees on Wednesday, March 15 and Friday, March 17 at 1pm, and Saturday, March 18 at 2pm. The March 15 matinee is a relaxed performance and the March 17 matinee is an ASL interpreted performance. Regular admission is $20, $12 for students and seniors, and $10 for groups of 10 or more. Admission to previews is $7, and $5 for the relaxed performance matinee on March 15 and the ASL interpreted performance on March 17. Tickets can be purchased online, by phone at 416-736-5888 or in person at the Box Office.