August Strindberg would probably have gotten a glum sort of kick out of last week’s headlines. As a plague resummons its strength and the impoverished among us multiply for the second year running, we’re launching the graft trial of a tycoon charged with bilking his company of millions—which he spent on a $6,000 shower curtain, among other obscenities. The stringent old Swede would’ve just grunted, maybe, and pointed out that he’d told us so a century ago: “The world is not pure,” a deity observes in Strindberg’s A Dream Play—and the life we lead in it, she concludes mournfully after some observation, “is not good.” Hardly a new idea, that, even in 1901, but Strindberg never claimed it as his own. Quite the opposite: A Dream Play fuses a Western modernist’s despair at the human condition with ancient Eastern ideas about why we’re all so miserable to and with one another, and if the philosophical mix often seems more than a little thick, the imagery it inspires can still be pretty sttriking. Joe Martin and the Open Theatre bring more style than substance to the production they’ve mounted at the Takoma Theatre, but they bring quite a bit of style indeed. One vivid illustration of that ideological fusion finds a champion of humanity (Chris Davenport’s impassioned and impressive Advocate) strung up crucifixion-style; behind him, Michael C. Stepowany and Mahima Poddar’s projections suggest stained-glass windows in which Hindu gods have supplanted the usual saints and martyrs, while around him, a motley chorus of black-clad mourners, white-robed revelers, and carmine-footed Bharata Natyam dancers chant a De Profundis scored for sitar and surbahar. (Shubha Sankaran, Brian Q. Silver, and Dainis Jirgensons provide the live music.) To its credit, the company does manage to put the play’s central notions across pretty clearly. What it doesn’t manage, despite a striking lead performance from Tricia McCauley and sumptuous costumes courtesy of Evgenia Salazar, is to enliven the script: A Dream Play is nothing if not a kind of meditation, a deliberately ponderous and circular thing that makes most of its major points well before intermission, and essayed with the kind of dreamy-lyrical tone Martin takes with this production, it’s perilously like an invitation to a profoundly philosophical nap.—Trey Graham

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