Izumi Ashizawa’s Dreams in the Arms of the Binding Lady is a nightmare in all the right ways. In turns seductive and ghastly, this dream sequence drawn from Japanese myth is an entrancing addition to this year’s Fringe Festival.
The play is based on the legend of a spider who entices victims (she prefers human males) by turning into a beautiful lady who lures men into a quiet shack and wraps them up in a silk web. Ashizawa’s ensemble of five portrays the dreams of one such web-bound victim (Nick Horan) with spellbinding grace and ingenuity. Utilizing mind-bending costumes and movement pieces, the group (Izumi Ashizawa, Raechel Nolan, Vanessa Nolan, Claudia Rosales, Vanessa Taylor) turns Studio’s Milton Theatre into a surreal dream space where nothing is immutable.
Like the best dreams, the show seems in its retelling too strange to be feasible. For example, at one point the ensemble merges to become a giant babbling grandmother, her robes made of woven spider’s silk. In another, Horan slowly unwinds the obi belt of a beautiful lady’s kimono, only to find terror underneath. Without spoiling the rest of Ashizawa’s dream-dances, they are impossible to believe or predict, but they are magical.
The show sounds and looks just like a dream. Low blue lights hide the seams of Ashizawa’s creations, cloaking her faceless ghosts and spider seductresses in the blurriness of fear and imagination. Meanwhile, the performers create a constant soundscape of creepy noises, mutters just too low to be heard clearly, and the occasional far-off scream.
In keeping with its origin myth, Dreams in the Arms of the Binding Lady shows off a distinctly Japanese influence. Actors enter with the slow deliberation of Noh performers, heightening the suspenseful onset of new dreams. Meanwhile, Butoh provides a meaningful base for Horan’s clawing attempts to wake up from his nightmares. At one point, there’s even a Bunraku-style puppet show.
Dreams in the Arms of the Binding Lady is a triumphant display of some serious artistry. From the dreams’ concepts to each performers’ facial expressions, the show is well-polished on every level. DC is lucky to have such talent on display, and Fringe-goers shouldn’t miss this imaginative tour-de-force.
Dreams in the Arms of the Binding Lady has only 3 remaining performances Jul 14 at 1:00 pm and July 15 at 2pm and 6:30 pm at Studio Theatre, 1501 14th St NW Washington, DC.
Dreams in the Arms of the Binding Lady
By Izumi Ashizawa
Music Composed by Simos Papanas
Produced by Izumi Ashizawa Performance
Reviewed by Robert Duffley
Running Time: 45 minutes with no intermission