Dreiske Performance Company

at the Ivanhoe Theater

Nicole Dreiske bills herself as “internationally recognized as a major force in 20th-century theatre and education.” She also claims to have directed, taught, and/or toured her productions at either 200 or 500 (her accounts of her accomplishments conflict on this point) theaters and universities across the globe. Her program bio for Macondo begins: “‘Stunning; ‘awesome,’ and ‘intense’ are the adjectives used most often to describe the work of Nicole Dreiske.” Such a formidable estimation seems to beg for a second opinion.

I went to Macondo expecting a dramatization of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s extraordinary novel, One Hundred Years of Solitude. What I didn’t expect was a total-immersion introduction to the “Dreiske Discipline–a revolutionary new method of actor training.” Nicole Dreiske herself walked onstage before the performance and delivered a short lecture/demonstration of the method. With a curt command from Dreiske, her company of five performers sprinted onstage and raced through an absurd routine of leaps and somersaults, slicing the air with meaningless gestures and making spitting sounds in unison. In between the usual twaddle about energy levels and vocal technique, Dreiske would turn to her company and bark commands like a ballet mistress, which, supposedly, would alter the format of their aerobic panic. Once she had them freeze. It was sort of like Simon Says. I thought, at the time, it must be a joke.

Then came the performance, which was a lot like the demonstration, only much, much longer. It was funny, once I realized that this was the work of a Napoleon complex. And the company was so serious about it that that cracked me up too. But it soon became apparent that one of the facets of the multifaceted Dreiske Discipline is that it’s repetitive and monotonous, and that can wear down even the most solipsistic sense of humor over the course of an evening.

Somersaults are a major motif of the Dreiske Discipline–forward, backward, and, space permitting, double somersaults. All of the company were quite adept at this. They never hurt themselves and they seemed to be able to land just where they wanted. I guess my favorite somersault of the evening was performed by Susan Willenbrink: she rolled backward, laughing a stilted “ha ha ha ha ha” all the way.

Also symptomatic of this “revolutionary new method” is a kind of angular, choppy gesticulation. If you slowed it down–since the Dreiske Discipline is extremely fast paced–the performers’ gestures might resemble a crude form of sign language. Slower still, it would look like t’ai chi. No doubt, it’s supposed to at least appear expressive or biomechanical, but it’s a form of expression bled dry of meaning. Call it interpretive semaphore, or break dancing for paraplegics.

Ah yes, the vocal technique. Most revolutionary, and easy to learn too! All you have to do is bite down hard on the following consonants: b, d, k (including hard c), and t. The consonant p is optional, depending on whether you’re in spitting distance of the front row. Indeed, all of these consonants are optional, depending on whether or not you happen to remember to bite down on them in the heat of performance. And, of course, don’t forget the sibilant s. All speech is otherwise enunciated without any particular nuance or inflection, like words off a conveyor belt. This is hard to get used to at first, and when you do, you regret that you wasted the effort.

That seems to be about it for the operative elements of the Dreiske Discipline. If there are any subtleties I’ve overlooked–and subtlety isn’t the strong suit of this method–I’m sure they’ll find their way into future program notes and press releases.

None of this has much to do with One Hundred Years of Solitude, which itself seems to be at the bottom of Dreiske’s agenda. As director, playwright, and one of the performers of Macondo, Dreiske has seen fit to use some of the characters and plot elements from Marquez’s novel without burdening herself with the responsibility of a faithful dramatization. A “sequence of events” is published in the program and reiterated by a narrator, but it does little to make sense out of the play. Instead, all continuity is sacrificed to a sort of metaphysical mumbo jumbo, mixing up past, present, and future. So the audience has little choice but to abandon the novel altogether and go with the flow of a production that might have been shredded by Fawn Hall and directed by a new-age Ayn Rand.

Very few scenes, in themselves, are memorable: the insomnia plague, for one, and the cat fight between the two sisters over the new dance teacher, Pedro. Most scenes are lost, awash in a blur of hyperactivity without rhythm or transition. Only bits and lines periodically capture your attention: really stupid bits, like when Rose Bachi croons “ooo woo ooo ooo” to lend a moment an occult presence; or genuinely funny lines, like the universal complaint, “I need a bigger kitchen,” that occasionally roll off the conveyor belt intact. But most dialogue, under the Dreiske Discipline, becomes drained of meaning. It no longer seems important who is speaking or being spoken to, and divorced language becomes vulnerable to the odd association. At one point, for instance, one character extols, “The most beautiful woman in the world,” just as Dreiske herself makes her entrance. Magic, coincidence, or unbridled narcissism?

Well, I wouldn’t call it a magical evening, despite the production’s emphasis on gypsies, prophecy, and the tarot. And, as ridiculous and chaotic as the Dreiske Discipline seems on the surface of it, it doesn’t function randomly or lend itself to theatrical accidents or coincidences. These performers–I won’t call them actors–are athletic and precise. But the uniform expression in their blank, bulging eyes suggests they’ve committed themselves to some anal, paramilitary cult.

That leaves unbridled narcissism, the overwhelming theme of the evening. Sure, it’s laughable and juvenile, but after a while it seems spooky. It reminds you of L. Ron Hubbard or Sylvester Stallone. So, in the interest of establishing a sane and necessary dialogue, I’m going to pass on to you Dreiske’s toll-free number: 800-331-6197. Give her a call sometime when you’re out of town and ask her who she thinks she is. Then you’ll be in a position to offer her some fresh adjectives for her bio.