Dreams often come with wild, cartoonish images. We wake up remembering their eccentricity and wonder: “How did my brain come up with that?” Watching The Lathe of Heaven is like stepping into that. Filled to the brim with charming sci-fi zaniness, this show imaginatively transports audiences to a dystopian version of Portland, Oregon.
Director Natsu Onoda Power has successfully adapted Ursula K. Le Guin’s 1971 novel by portraying most of the book’s dark scenarios with humor. Puppets comically recreate a car accident, retro comic panels showcase an alien encounter, and a coffee-shop-style song highlights the ravages of climate change. There are plenty of moments that could have taken on a completely serious tone, and I’m glad they didn’t. When horrifying and depressing themes are revealed through comedy, they give audiences a reason to laugh, wince, and ponder. Think “Hasa Diga Eebowai” from The Book of Mormon.
The plot takes place in the “future” of 2002 and revolves around George Orr (Matthew Marcus): a mild-mannered man who’s fraught with a power that he can’t control. A power that causes some of his dreams to affect reality. Medics discover that Orr’s been abusing drugs to prevent his dreams, and he’s sent to undergo “voluntary” psychiatric sessions with Dr. William Haber (Matthew Vaky). When Haber realizes the scope of Orr’s power, he uses a machine to control his patient’s dreams and alters the universe to fit his vision of utopia. Chaos ensues, and Orr implores a strong-willed lawyer, Heather Lelache (Erica Chamblee), to build a case against the doctor.
Keeping the story set in 2002 is a strong and comedic choice. We’re shown how Le Guin’s dark vision of the future vastly differs from and, at times, comes close to our reality. When characters cheekily referred to the date and cracked the fourth wall by calling out the novel, I instantly chuckled.
Lathe’s overall aesthetic is a wondrous mix of cult-classic sci-fi and 70s pop culture. When Haber’s machine beeps, boops, and glows, you can’t help but recall the “sciencey” contraptions featured in countless films. You’re given the essence of Forbidden Planet and Soylent Green alongside the sounds of Simon and Garfunkel and The Beatles. One particular example of this: a scene in which characters robotically dance to “The Hustle.”
The performers, made up of professional and student actors, truly embrace the show’s silliness. Especially Matthew Vaky, who starts off portraying Haber as a self-centered physician and transitions the character into a power-hungry mad scientist. You can tell he’s having a blast with the role.
The Lathe of Heaven
closes March 11, 2018
Details and tickets
One major creative aspect of the show is the use of projections. Along with playing an ensemble of characters, Georgetown’s Mark Camilli, Vanessa Chapoy, Jonathan Compo, Michaela Farrell, Kate Ginna, Adrian Iglesias, and Maddy Rice use an onstage video camera and overhead projector to display explosions, alien invasions, and newscasts. I enjoyed watching them create the visuals at stage right and left while seeing the finished product projected at the center, like shadow puppetry. Projection designer Danny Carr has concocted a delightful Do-It-Yourself-Science-Kit kind of effect, and it totally works.
If you’re yearning for a dramatic, no-nonsense version of Le Guin’s book, you’ll want to look elsewhere. But that’s not to say that this rendition of Lathe has stripped away everything with a hint of solemnity. The earnest relationship between Orr and Lelache keeps the production from spinning into absurdity, and Power emphasizes their blossoming love with several quiet, but powerful moments. In fact, my favorite line of the show (adapted word for word from the book) revolves around such a moment: “Love doesn’t just sit there, like a stone, it has to be made, like bread; remade all the time, made new.”
The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin. Directed and adapted by Natsu Onoda Power. Featuring Mark Camilli, Erica Chamblee, Vanessa Chapoy, Jonathan Compo, Michaela Farrell, Kate Ginna, Adrian Iglesias, Matthew Marcus, Maddy Rice, and Matthew Vaky. Lighting design: Adam Bacigalupo. Sound design: Roc Lee. Costume design: Deb Sivigny. Props design: Coalan Overman Eder. Set design: Natsu Onoda Power. Projection design: Danny Carr. Production assistant: Bailey Nassetta. Assistant Director/Assistant Stage Manager: Jesse Goodwin. Production manager: Joel Hobson. Stage manager: Katie Bücher. Produced by Georgetown University’s Department of Performing Arts and Spooky Action Theater. Reviewed by Emily Priborkin.