Actors Repertory Theatre
at Victory Gardens Studio Theater
You could bust your brain trying to figure out Dysan, and even if you succeeded there’d be no way to prove you’d done it. Obscure and ingrown, this overwritten, underplotted sci-fi puzzler by Patrick Meyers (author of the equally talky but penetrable K-2) only gets cloudier as it goes along. In no time at all you realize you’ve passed the point of no return: no explanation is better than any other.
But at least this Chicago premiere by the Actors Repertory Theatre is persuasively performed. Eric Nightengale’s staging makes up in energy for what it must inevitably lose in coherence. The actors know what they’re doing, and usually that’s half the battle.
Here, unfortunately, it’s a lot less. There’s still the story to contend with. Dysan depicts a love triangle that defies time and logic: it brings together two men and the superwoman they’ve fought for over the centuries in several different incarnations. In this one, Jake is a sculptor whose shabby home faces Eddie’s pricey residence on the Pacific Ocean.
Eddie is a new-age guru and self-proclaimed “wizard of life” who trades in hallucinations and telekinetics, a sort of savage messiah who preaches a guilt-free gospel: herald of a coming Age of Intuition, he says in his harangues that even “murder is all right with God.” All that matters, he says, is to let experience transcend the limitations of linear thought, and similar California psychobabble. Eddie, who’s “fleeing from a vision,” feels he is on the verge of some great Shirley MacLaine-style breakthrough.
Jake breaks into Eddie’s home in order to sculpt a replica of Dysan, the Amazon they both adore. Returning from some astral plane, Dysan briefly takes over Eddie’s body, then later turns to Jake to ask him “to make Eddie remember” what they once were, so that she can take Eddie with her on her “launch pattern” toward a new world, perhaps the next installment in their endless saga.
Apparently to refresh Eddie’s cosmic memory, soapy flashbacks detail past lives that they all led in Belfast and Tokyo. What’s unchanging is that both men insufficiently appreciate Dysan’s implacable search for personal freedom.
Jake finally confronts Eddie with his dangerous power-tripping. And Dysan denounces Eddie, her main lover, as a “grandiose bag of bullshit” (all but stealing the exact words of my notes). By the end, Eddie has advanced (or regressed) to a spiritual purity that allows him to join Dysan on her cosmic quest. At least I think he has: a laser beam started twitching on the back wall and lights were twinkling in the backdrop, then a flash pot exploded and the music soared. So it must have been some kind of apotheosis or transfiguration. As if by this point it could possibly have mattered.
In Dysan Meyers is aping the kind of futuristic fantasy mongering that Sam Shepard indulged in The Unseen Hand and The Tooth of Crime. But for all its paranormal pretensions, Dysan is curiously time- and earthbound. Nothing evolves here, and because everything’s just sprung on us, we never get involved enough to want to guess what happens next.
Perplexing where it pretends to be profound, Dysan would be impossible to take if it weren’t so fully felt in Nightengale’s kinetic direction. As the straight-shooting Jake, Ted Rubenstein makes a raw and raucous contrast to Andrei Hartt’s smooth-talking, neurotic neo-evangelist, Eddie. Ardent but inscrutable as the potent object of their incarnations, Monica Rae Wilson does all she can in the role of a seductress who, in the end, stands for very little. Randy Albright (who also designed the surreal sound) plays Eddie’s slimy sidekick with oily efficiency.
Dysan does contain two intriguing revelations. Eddie, in one of his crazed rhapsodies, cites a professor’s belief that there are only 36 real beings on this planet; all the rest are holograms. When these spiritual entities are interfered with, history is warped forever. Like the time a Tyrannosaurus rex stepped on four of them at once . . .
The other moments of truth came when the sound system picked up several very loud CB broadcasts. Keeping the time warps separate in this day and age, and in this play, is not easy.