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Dali’s Dream

Two giant figures of the twentieth century meet in a fantastical but uneven production.

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Dyllan Vallier as Salvador Dali and John Higgins as Sigmund Freud in a scene from Lisa Monde’s “Dali’s Dream” at the Gene Frankel Theatre (Photo credit: Shane Maritch)

[avatar user=”Joel Benjamin” size=”96″ align=”left”] Joel Benjamin, Critic[/avatar]

Is it any wonder that the great surrealist painter Salvador Dali (1904-1989), who reveled in illustrating the subconscious, longed to meet the great psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), the scientist who investigated that very same subconscious?

Lisa Monde’s Dali’s Dream, inspired by Diary of a Genius by Salvador Dali, at the Gene Frankel Theatre is an imaginative expression of their sole person-to-person interaction in London in July, 1938.  Although their actual meeting took place in Freud’s home, Monde creatively placed their meeting of minds in Freud’s therapeutic center.

As Dalí’s Dream opens Freud (John Higgins) is busily preparing for Dalí’s (Dyllan Vallier) imminent visit.  Adolf (Monde, who also plays Adolfina), Freud’s assistant and Pierre (Mac Stevenson, who also plays Eva and Euterpe) assist warily.

Four of Freud’s patients waft in and out of the action until they become the center of attention.  Frank (Seth Andrew Miller) obsessively paints, often revealing his deepest issues including gender issues. Stein (Ryan Wasserman) keeps holding his genitals to make sure they are still there.  Yin (Sondrine Lee Bontemps) is barely earthbound, flitting about in diaphanous garb.  And, then there is Yang (Habin Kwak) who’s suffering from disease and obsession.

Freud and Adolf express reservations about Dali’s talent until the artist, himself, breezes in, mustache and all, expressing his excitement.

Dyllan Vallier as Salvador Dali and Lisa Monde as Adolf/Adolfina in a scene from Lisa Monde’s “Dali’s Dream” at the Gene Frankel Theatre (Photo credit: Shane Maritch)

As part of his demonstration Freud tells each patient to paint the part of a man they deem most important.  The result is surprising, analyzed by Freud using a huge magnifying glass created by St. Michel Gutierrez who also designed the strangely fanciful costumes.  (Gutierrez’s wittiest achievement is a huge telephone/lobster prop, a three-dimensional apparition of a Dali painting.)

The four patients’ stories occupy the bulk of Dali’s Dream in an uneven stream of oddball activities which divert the plot from the more important consideration of the Freud/Dali interaction.  Their behavior is whimsical at best, arbitrary at worst.

The play becomes an awkward phantasmagoria of the four patients’ crippling neuroses, hiding the fact that the reason for the play, its important focus, the meeting of two major minds of the twentieth century, becomes secondary, not to mention swelling the play’s running time.  Their discussions are never fully realized, but get as far as Dali’s admission that he could remember being in his mother’s womb, more a boast than a revelation.

Further distancing the play from the heart of the matter are several musical numbers, songs mostly written by Monde plus a bit of choreography by Monde and Vallier in which Dali does a slinky tango/waltz with Yin and expresses dismay at putting a moustache on the Mona Lisa!  He also performs a song in rap style. All entertaining, yes, but filler.

Towards the end, Dali is seen in conversation with Coco Chanel who ironically comes off as the sole voice of sanity. As the underwritten Coco Chanel, Leslie Renee adds some welcome gravity although she seems to serve only as the person to whom Dali could reveal his observations and ultimate disappointment with Freud and his clinic.

The cast of Lisa Monde’s “Dali’s Dream” at the Gene Frankel Theatre (Photo credit: Shane Maritch)

Of the cast, Higgins’s Freud succeeds the best by sustaining his Viennese accent and his seriousness.  Monde’s combination Adolf/Adolfina, attired in S & M gear, is weirdly out of place and anachronistic, particularly with her use of a head microphone which no other cast member uses.  (The Frankel Theatre is tiny.)

Vallier, slim and good-looking, as Dali gets his dandy behavior, but not his flamboyance which includes his very distinctive, affected accent.  He is clearly a young man whereas Dali would have been in his thirties in 1938.  He doesn’t seem to have explored all the color and grandeur of Dali.

Stevenson nearly steals the show in her multiple roles, prancing energetically about, singing quite nicely and wearing her three outfits with panache.  She is as near to a narrator without actually being one.

The four actors who play the poor patients work hard but are done in by their unsubtly written roles which stress their peculiarities over their humanness.

The brightest elements of the production are the clever set by Steven Kendall which uses moveable hospital screens to great effect. When turned around they reveal copies of Dali’s paintings.  Gutierrez’s costumes, particularly the final ones which brought Dali’s paintings to life are quite extravagant.

Dali’s Dream was directed by Ms. Monde and Thomas R. Gordon who is also the lighting designer

Dali’s Dream (through April 27, 2024)

Gene Frankel Theatre, 24 Bond Street, in Manhattan

For tickets, visit http://www.our.show/dalisdream

Running time: two hours including one intermission

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About Joel Benjamin (562 Articles)
JOEL BENJAMIN was a child performer on Broadway and danced with leading modern dance and ballet companies. Joel has been attending theater, ballet and opera performances ever since childhood, becoming quite opinionated over the years. He was the founder and artistic director of the American Chamber Ballet and subsequently was massage therapist to the stars before becoming a reviewer and memoirist. He is a member of the Outer Critics Circle.

1 Comment on Dali’s Dream

  1. AN HOURGLASS FILLED WITH DREAMS

    Dreams can be scary, loud, violent, disgusting, bad, confusing, illogical, even repetitive. However, there is a huge BUT that comes afterwards! They could have never ever been, are, or will be boring!

    Not a single person in the history of mankind hath dreamt a boring dream. There is likewise very strong evidence that animals, fish, plants, mountains, and any unknown creatures among the other planets, galaxies, and multiverses, would confirm the indisputable statement mentioned above, should they at once be invited to participate in conservation regarding such an observation…

    It does not matter who the sleeping subject is. He, she, or whosoever else may be a very boring and ordinary individual. Yet perhaps, on the other hand, the dreamer might just as likely happen to be a genius. Moreover, that person’s occupation might be the very first or very last thing which comes to mind. One’s job might be dreamlike, or, on the contrary, hated, unbearable, and, above all, unbearably boring. The bottom line is: neither an outer, nor inner boredom of reality is able to poison anyone’s dreams with the same affliction.

    The true New Yorker lives in the most hellish nightmare permanently. Imagine Dante going through all the infernal circles (only this time not accompanied by the most brilliantly thoughtful guide and not being awarded by the most gorgeously welcoming smile at the end of his nigh eternal journey) – that is what a true New Yorker experiences on an everyday basis. To be completely true, this ominous place is even worse than the very bottom circle of the netherworld. There are plenty variety to its ingenious torture…

    Leaving in the constant fear of being late, one can never be sure of even the nearest future, no matter how much time in advance has been anticipated, for the city is always unpredictable in its mischief. One must never win: whether one’s decision is to take the train, the MTA will make sure to arrange a ridiculous weekend detour through the countless stinkiest, dirtiest, and loudest stops, sending all types of mythical monsters, bloodthirsty vampires, and sexually hallucinating madmen along the way.

    If one chooses to drive a car in the city to deliver oneself from the evil of the underworld and inbreathe the air of freedom and independence, the city traffic most definitely will make one pay a painful price for this choice by letting the car go forward at the blistering pace of a block an hour and keeping a pedestrian laughter as sardonic as possible while it’s passing by.

    Nevertheless, miracles can occur anywhere! The unfortunate personage of this horrific story once in a while wakes up from this nightmare with tears of true happiness and utterly cries: “I LOVE NY!” There is a very simple explanation to this obvious contradiction. Finding oneself in the old cobblestone street to the East of Broadway, at the heart of Noho, in front of the hospitable doors of the small yet legendary Gene Frankel Theater, five minutes before the beginning of a new performance, is something one would only dream for.

    The walls of the first room are covered with intriguing posters and spellbinding photographs depicting colorful fragments from a successful history of previous productions. The presence of ghosts from the past is still felt in the air, in every corner. Their touch is still warm. Their spirit is still alive.

    The play is entitled “Dali’s Dream” directed by Lisa Monde and Thomas R. Gordon. What a filigree directors’ work! Bravo! Lisa Monde is an incredible artist who has written the play and composed music for this production. Her new masterpiece presents the very best example of what a dream performance and performance of a dream should be like. First of all, it is entertaining, unforgettable, tastefully funny, and musical! It stays in one’s memory in details forever. There is a beautiful balance between familiar aspects of theatre that are mixed in an unusual way and the element of surprise which makes this exquisite experience absolutely unique.

    The cast is selected with love, taste, and precision. With such care taken, everyone’s nonstop act achieves the best outcome, which can be described only as phenomenal! Actors deliver their roles believably, organically, and creatively, with humor interwoven into every line, gesture, and expression to create a masterful tapestry of magic which encompasses everything that makes theatre what has earned the craft the world’s endless devotion. Mac Stevenson is the true gem of the entire show. She plays several roles which connect reality to dream.

    The quartet of characters (Sondrine Lee Bontemos as Yin, Habin Kwak as Yang, Seth Andrew Miller as Frank and Ryan Wasserman as Stein) in Dr. Freud’s sanatorium is beautifully orchestrated. Each instrument brings its own dramatic sound to this psychedelic polyphony and each brushstroke adds a fresh color to this surrealistic canvas. Their solo performances at the second act are a special treat to one’s ears, eyes, mind, and heart.

    Despite the fact of their lifelong friendship, the appearance of the fashion goddess, Coco Chanel, gracefully played by Leslie Renee, in Dali’s dream at the second act of the play, is still quite unexpected. This advent presents the whole new dimension and suggests that everyone wears some costume and hides behind some mask. Lisa Monde’s decision to add that particular historical persona is another piece of evidence of her unerring flair and extraordinary gift as a playwright. Society often cares about either art or science only if they are well dressed in this season’s scandal. There is a very thin silky tread stitched in between harmony and chaos, genius and madness, freedom and paranoia. It takes a great deal of elegance, excellent taste, and great sense of humor to be able to balance amongst these clashing modes of existence.

    And the last, but certainly not least, two main characters, Salvador Dali (Dyllan Vallier) and Dr. Sigmund Freud (John Higgins), on the surface have created a grotesque dialogue between art and science full of permissive irony and, perhaps, secret admiration towards each other. On the other end, one should not forget that Dr. Freud, in this case, is only a most honorable guest from within Dali’s complex dream. Such understanding points to the conclusion that this play is a tragedy of any genius in history. It does not matter, whether someone’s incomparable talent has been illuminated in the spotlight of fame or remains in the dark, beyond recognition. The unbearable solitude chases one everywhere and lays its shadow over even one’s dreams. The fear of oblivion spreads its wings and carries away dear memories to feed them all to its voracious nestlings. What will be forgotten over time: a vacant mask with a long pointy mustache, or an hourglass filled with colorfully painted dreams?!

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