Waking up in your own bed, but under the bare, spreading arms of a tree, to a bare-chested dancer and a chorus of singer-dancers could be an unnerving experience.
Or it could be, just as easily, an opening scene for the exploration of dance in an otherwise familiar environment, a setup borrowed and normalized, say, from Surrealism.
Or it could be a narrative hook familiar to movie audiences: images from dreamlife, from the subconscious, invading the space where the dreamer experiences them.
In any case, it could at least register as a disturbing experience, a kind of communality of internal and external lives.
This seems to be part of what Joe Goode and Holcombe Walter have in mind with their most recent experiment in musical theater, Dead Boys, at Zellerbach Playhouse on the UC campus, produced by the Department of Theater, Dance and Performance Studies (which, incidentally, has—as usual—a full season of worthy, sometimes unusual, programs).
Goode, a force for years in Bay Area performing arts, is on the faculty; others participating in various ways are in the department; Holcombe is a lecturer. Others, like lecturer Lura Dolas, who performs very well indeed as Anna the landlady for the young crew at the center of the story, are part of cast or production team.
Dead Boys meanders through a series of scenes with dance, song and dialogue, following the life and conflicted thoughts of Monroe (Daniel Duque-Estrada, with splendid presence), a gay artist working on a performance piece involving his claustrophobic dreams of gay people in trouble around the globe—and the romantic complications of his roomates, Carly and Brandon (Rachel Ferensowicz and Nicholas Trengove—a high point their dance piece on and around a couch, trying to either avoid each other or connect), and others, some appearing as chorus or ensemble, giving amplitude in one or several of the performing arts to the story and the multidisciplinary show: Danny Nguyen, Nyomi Stjepovic, Erica Freestone, Megan Lowe.
There’s also S & M couple Dwayne (Ben Abbott) and Luis (Mario Rizzo), with leather and dog leashes, upstairs.
And Roberta, played with an offbeat comic awkwardness by Caitlin Marshall, who suddenly becomes the medium in an unnerving scene for her gay, gardener uncle who hanged himself, the most exceptional vignette of the evening.
There’s an urge, across the board, in the arts and outside them too, to put a story into everything, or everything in a story. A narrative urge in another art form shows an advanced or aging state of that form, opined Orson Welles.
Here, it shows an admirable stick-to-itiveness by Goode and Holcombe, though the frontal affectation of scene and tableau (maybe natural for many dance performances), the dialogue that is more expository than shared and much in content and situation made one spectator mutter, “Where’s Sondheim when we need him!” And indeed, the sense of ensemble, of a kind of domesticated cabaret of private versus public life reminds one of Company, updated—or a more engaged episode of Friends with song-and-dance.
Much of Goode’s most intriguing—most penetrating—work in the past has involved maybe two primary elements or modes, thrust up against or syncopated with each other—singing or instrumental playing and dance, for instance—suggesting or provoking stories almost casually, fleetingly ...
Dead Boys was worked up pretty quickly—though not all that quickly, considering the tradition of improvised shows. Still, the arch attitudinizing of dialogue and delivery, which have figured in other, more finished work by Goode and Holcombe, doesn’t do justice to what could be an interesting, engaging, even gripping tale, mostly effective in an organic sense only when it abandons the false naivete. The little moments, and some of the bigger issues in reflection, which must’ve inspired the piece, are what, dissociatively, remain with the viewer. And a fair amount of talented dancing and performance ability, including the excellent instrumental septet led by Holcombe.
Presented by the UC Department of Theater, Dance and Performance Studies at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and at 2 p.m. Sunday through Oct. 18 at Zellerbach Playhouse on the UC campus. $10-$15. 642-8827. tdps.berkeley.edu.