Immersive Theater Swallows You Whole in Quincy

Going to an “immersive theater” show can be a profound experience; you walk amongst a play taking place around you, you feel the actors brush up against you or you lock eyes when they talk to you, and you may find yourself alone in a room with a single character for a few intimate, intense moments.

When the show is skillfully adapted from one of the greatest playwrights in history, there is a very good chance you will be moved.

“…Or  Dreaming,” an immersive theater adaptation of August Strindberg’s “A Dream Play” by Strindberg devotee Tara Brooke Watkins which opens Dec. 7, marks the debut of Quincy’s new Pariah Theatre Company, and it arrives on the scene with an offering that is hard to ignore and that anyone who appreciates the out-of-the-ordinary will enjoy.

nurseoffThe original work has traditionally been problematic to produce, as it seeks to recreate the experience of a dream, with its jumps in logic and nonsensical associative transitions that somehow still make sense to the dreamer. Perhaps that is why it fits so well into the non-linear, choose-your-own-adventure style of the immersive experience which the award-winning Watkins, also the play’s director and theater company’s founder, created for this production.

Disorienting at first, as a guide brings the audience upon a world of inhabitants already engaged in their own comings and goings, the environment invites free roaming to follow various characters, witness their interactions and immerse in what seems a disjointed bazaar of titillation and allegorical language.

But after wandering through a few of these “mini-plays,” which thrive on a trifecta of tremendous performance, artful arrangement and transcendent dialogue, and interacting with a few of the “people,” the place begins to feel familiar, the relations begin to congeal – there may even be an urge to lose oneself and join what starts to feel less and less like a performance, as if one were Ebenezer Scrooge visiting his past in “A Christmas Carol.”

The play, beyond its dream allegory, is ultimately about the value of the human condition, with a basic plot of the daughter of the god Indra coming to Earth to witness the suffering of mankind. Hope and remorse are ever-present, and it is difficult not to become attached to the characters and their aspirations.

Two Milton actors gave very affecting performances, with Emerson student Kendall Aiguier as a saucy 1930s-style vaudeville dancer and Craig Truax (who has appeared on the Milton Players stage) in multiple roles as “Doctor,” “Father” and “Puppet Master.” Both were great, in what is an unusual challenge for an actor: to play to a shifting, unpredictable, sometimes even absent audience.

Strindberg is often referred to as the “father of expressionism,” a pioneer as well of surrealism and a hulking influence over much 20th century drama. The knowledge and skill that it took to successfully adapt one of his most difficult-to-produce works, in an unconventional format for a modern audience in a few empty rooms in a YMCA, is considerable.

A strong debut for Watkins’ Pariah Theatre Company, and a definite do-not-miss.

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