#129. When I was a kid, my mom use to tell me, “Be good! Santa’s birds are watching.” Mom had this year-round imaginary surveillance set up on my sisters and me. It had all the right scare tactics and limitless capabilities. It used the Christmas incentive reward. And birds are everywhere. I look at birds now and still see the judgment behind the feathers.
Oracle Productions presents THE SANDMAN. At the university, Nathaniel is tormented by nightmares. His dreams are a melding of childhood terrors and adult paranoia. His mother warns him about the sandman. His father warns him about dream obsessions. He can’t make sense of all this information swirling in his head. He is consumed by the memory of his father’s death. Was Nathaniel’s dad killed by the sandman, Coppelius, Coppola or all of the above? Nathaniel’s present is distorted by his past. He’s stuck in a delusional trance. His mother becomes his lover. His father becomes the sandman. How can he awake from this restless slumber? Or is he really asleep? THE SANDMAN doesn’t sprinkle magic onto droopy eyelids. THE SANDMAN dumps phantasmagorical into your sightline forcing a gawk-fest.
So, much to look at in this show! Director Max Truax choreographs multi-faceted techniques to create this surreal world of puppets, projections, and pageantry. Not only does Costume Designer DeChantal Kosmatka dress up the actors in refined but slightly quirky elegance, she provides matching outfits for puppet counterparts. The puppets are spookier versions of the characters. Under Truax’s direction, the talented cast tenderly interacts with these human imitations. In particular, Christopher Hart (Nathaniel) caresses a fleshless Olympia with disquieting idolization. The impact is tainted illusion. Truax also uses cameras positioned chaotically (Video Designer Ben Fuchsen). Actors speak passionate soliloquies straightforwardly into the camera. These oversize projections appear on the back wall effectively gloomed up by Lighting Designer Karen M. Thompson. At one point, Hart is screaming into the camera and Dave Belden is looming in the very corner of the shot. It’s “Blair Witch” disturbing and fascinating.
But it’s not just the super cool special effects that make this a powerful theatrical experience. Playwright Bob Fisher adapted the E.T.A. Hoffman story effectively using dramatic monologues and conversations to deconstruct Nathaniel’s muddled memories. Truax has the strong cast often deliver their lines directly to the audience. It’s weirdly intimate and conspiratorial. Simina Contras (Nathaniel’s mother) gives a standout performance. Her facial expressions are mesmerizing. She perfectly interjects humor into a very warped maternal persona.
THE SANDMAN is a thoroughly engrossing oddity. Oracle always pulls me into their head games. I find their creative expressions to be impressive and usually amusing. Of all their thought-provoking spectacles, THE SANDMAN is probably my favorite. And it’s free through Oracle’s commitment to Public Access to Theatre. If you snooze, you lose… get there!
Running Time: Eighty minutes with no intermission
At Oracle Theatre, 3809 N. Broadway
Based on the story by E.T.A. Hoffman
Adaptation by Bob Fisher
Directed by Max Truax
Fridays, Saturdays, Mondays at 8pm
Sundays at 4:30pm
Thru June 30th
Reserve Tickets at www.oracletheatre.org
Production photograph courtesy of Ben Fuchsen.