By Barton Greenberg . . .

Celebrating their 60th season, the historic La Mama Experimental Theater Club, in association with Spiderwoman Theater, in partnership with Aanmitaagzi and Loose Change Productions, has offered up a new work, Misdemeanor Dream. Developed through an ensemble theater practice rooted in Indigenous oral tradition, it was intended to weave together personal and community stories via speaking, dancing and singing, as well as multimedia techniques. Much of the results were impressive, though it ultimately failed dramatically and emotionally.

(left to right) Donna Couteau, Marjolaine Mckenzie, Gloria Miguel, Henu Josephine Tarrant, and Matt C. Cross – Photo by Lou Montesano

Certainly the design team (set and installation design by Sherry Guppy, Penny Couchie, Sid Bobb and Mona Damian, lighting design by Paige Seber and costume design by Mona Damian) created a wonderful environment that is part playground and part jungle. Many of the elements at first glance seem to have been constructed by children, but further consideration as the performance progressed reveal great sophistication in design and construction. A vital part of the design is a series of screens on which a second cast appears in various combinations to comment and offer their own stories, sometimes interacting with the cast on the stage and sometimes existing in their own worlds.

The on stage performers (Donna Couteau, Matt C. Cross,  Marjolaine Mckenzie, Gloria Miguel, Henu Josephine Tarrant and Imelda Villalon) are costumed as a mix of children and fairies, elves and other sprites, harkening to one of the acknowledged inspirations for the production, Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, though glimpses of Peter Pan occur as well. The cast matches the design with a charming willingness to play, frolic and tease each other—and to act out far more traumatic tales. Constant themes of absent and/or abusive parents and great peril are repeated in various variations throughout the program, to the point where they blend together. A story that invoked Julia Roberts as the height of glamorous fame was a welcome relief.

Henu Josephine Tarrant – Photo by Richard Termine

Existing in “other realms” (i.e., on the screens) were Sid Bobb, Penny Couchie, Animikikwe Couchie-Waukey, Lisa Cromarty, Sharon Day and Niigaanipines, who shared their own stories, mostly from a more adult perspective. Occasionally, they also indulged in conversational exchanges with the younger characters below for an added connection between the two worlds. The program also included a fair sampling of music, some used as background, some actually sung (very well), ranging from “The Acid Queen” to “There’s No Business Like Show Business” to “Here Comes Peter Cottontail.”

So why is the show ultimately a failure? Director Muriel Miguel, along with choreographer Penny Couchie and vocal choreographer Imelda Villalon, while keeping the actors moving and creating colorful stage pictures, has failed to organize the material into any form of a dramatic arc. The various tales seem to have performed at random, and could easily be reordered in any order to the same effect. That many of the tales seem to fade away without a defined ending nor a clear point. For all the commitment, energy and creativity invested in this piece, the payoff just isn’t there.

Misdemeanor Dream. Through March 27 at LaMama’s Ellen Stewart Theater (66 East 4th Street, between Second Avenue and The Bowery). 

Photos: Richard Termine and Lou Montesano