While a depression journal might be an unlikely starting point for Glass Mind Theatre’s unpretentious, fast-paced, delightful romp through classic sci-fi and isolation, Joshua Conkel’s The Dum Dums proves to be everything experimental drama should, delivering a little under an hour of tongue-in-cheek reflections on the nature of loss, emptiness, flawed relationships, and personal failure.
A strong cast across the board is led by Liz Galuardi as Traeger. If there is a definable plot in the play, it is not the disastrous trip to the unlit side of a distant super-Earth. Rather, this is the framing device for Traeger’s journey from self-doubt, to self-destruction, to a new paradigm that remains undefined at curtain call. Galuardi delivers on these complex inner struggles, at times lost in self-doubt and others defiantly blame-shifting, as she works her way through binge eating, binge television, and futile reviews of the ubiquitous star maps.
Ann Turiano is tough and exigent as a classic sci-fi captain. Sam Hayder is called upon to play three main roles, but most of his stage time is spent as the foil to Traeger, acting out the memory of the dermatologist boyfriend she left behind some 200 thousand years ago. The most impressive moments of acting come from all three during Traeger’s reality-tv fantasies, when her self-actualization efforts play out with the defiant poses and catch phrases of the lowbrow icons of this genre. All shift effortlessly into and out of their respective fantasy roles, fulfilling Conkel’s staging of depression with clarity.
Hayder is challenged most of all, as he is called upon to switch between long-dead human dermatologist to current zenomorphic threat, multiple times in a five-minute period. His comfort with character voices and physicality create effective contrasts, as the play rapidly moves toward a harrowing climax.
Gallery 788 is the perfect venue for this play. The upstairs exhibit room and cash bar add a flavor of high-culture, one that complements the community arts style of the space and popular culture themes of the play. Into this environment, Kate Smith-Morse has designed a set that reminds the spectator simultaneously of Star Trek and art gallery, with glowing obelisks and three chairs connected to each other by an abstract geometrical design on the otherwise bare floor.
The costumes by Kat McKerrow are a perfect mix of practical outfits (parkas and astronaut uniforms) and clever surprises. Jessica Ruth Baker’s glowing “creature” tail and body paint work seamlessly with McKerrow’s coat and glasses for Hayder’s dermatologist.
Brad Ranno’s lighting paints just the right amount of shadow on the moodier moments, while shocking the audience with bursts of intense LED color. Stephen Polacek’s sound design and Conkel’s own voice complete the aural mosaic of the production, with the emotionless voice of Linda (the onboard, ambiguously sentient computer) and appropriate sounds (airlock doors opening, engines firing).
[Spoiler Alert!] Much of what makes this play so enjoyable and affecting is its lack of condescension and absolute trust of the audience. The author’s devices encourage reflection without forcing answers from the spectators or pressuring them to respond. The creature’s journey to an unknown destination could be the ultimate expression of the protagonist’s death from suicide, alchoholism, or some other form of self-destruction (Turiano struggles against the creature’s urges to not fight against death), or it could be the hopeful journey beyond depression to an unknown future filled with potential (Galuardi seems comforted and at peace as the creature consumes her). Even the idea of the creature, whose tail injects poison into the host before digesting her insides, could be a metaphor for drug abuse or something more Freudian about the way men’s presence in women’s lives can permanently change them. Every viewer will enjoy the journey and the opportunity to answer these questions on her/his own.
There’s every reason to see Glass Mind Theatre’s production of The Dum Dums. It’s a fascinating and entertaining new work.
Running Time: 50 minutes.