Dreamland Burns' is aflame in multimedia surrealism
by Hedy Weiss
ChicagoTimes. Chicago, Ill.: May 19, 1986. pg. 42
Dreamland Burns With Eszter Balint, Stephan Balint, Peter Berg, Kuba Gontarczyk, Klara Palotai, Jennifer and Lillie Stein, Alexandra Auder, August Darnell, and Bobo Shaw. A play (with film) written and directed by Stephan Balint. With sets by Eva Buchmuller, lighting by Joe Beirne and Anne DeMarinis, and original music by Lounge Lizards, Tony Noguira, and Rammellzee. Created by Squat Theater and presented at the Briar Street Theater, 3133 N. Halsted.
Squat Theater's wildly inventive and whimsical multimedia production, "Dreamland Burns," presented by Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art at the Briar Street Theater for just three performances this past weekend, is a sophisticated game in which the rules of reality and illusion are always in question. It's a mix of film and theater, in which light (electrical, neon, and actual fire), music (taped and sung live) and the human image (on celluloid, in the flesh, and projected onto dummies) are combined in a seemingly endless number of ways.
Squat, a Hungarian theater collective exiled from its own country in 1976, has been working in New York for the past decade, where it is best known for its unique storefront theater where elements of streetlife were blended with live performance. "Dreamland Burns," the ensemble's first work for a traditional proscenium stage, proves that it can create surprises even when it takes a more controlled approach.
The first third of the 90-minute piece, written and directed by Stephan Balint, is a very funny low-budget black-and-white film that blends cinema verite and surrealism. (Shot in New York, where the surreal is the soup du jour, the film might also be considered pure realism.) It tells the simple story of Alexandra, a young woman (played with laid-back zaniness by Balint's daughter, Eszter, the star of the film "Stranger Than Paradise") who leaves her family and moves into her own apartment in New York. During the course of the film we meet her parents, her girlfriend, her shady boyfriend, a local drunk, and best of all, a taxi driver-cum filmmaker (played brilliantly by Peter Berg) whose imagination blends gypsy mysticism and urban hucksterism with advanced techniques in creative seduction.
The film metamorphoses into live theater as Alexandra falls asleep and her dreams become slightly distorted variations on the disquieting people and incidents in her real life. But the layers of illusion pile up further: live action combines with film; the backdrop for "reality" is a painted theater curtain that has been partially drawn back; music exists in many dimensions; and truth gets increasingly difficult to pin down. In an inspired moment, pieces of furniture that we saw being moved into Alexandra's apartment in the film, suddenly rain down from the "sky" onto the real stage.
Happily, the show attracted capacity audiences to the Briar Street Theater - a fact that should bode well for avant-garde theater here.
Peter Berg and Jennifer Stein in Squat Theater "Dreamland Burns," playing at the Museum of Contemporary Art.