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Anne Dimock's 'Tornado Dreams' Makes Abstract Play into Music

Turn to Flesh Productions takes on a colorful spoken opera.

We covered Turn to Flesh Productions' last installment in their verse drama reading series last month with In Flight. While Jenny Lyn Bader's play could ostensibly have been written as a traditional prose play, however, that is certainly not true of this month's piece, which began its life as an opera. Tornado Dreams by Anne Dimock is an abstract, lyrical spoken opera that lets you use your imagination to bring its painted images to life.

A Whirlwind of Art and Doubt

Tornados do make an appearance in the play, but Tornado Dreams is a piece more about art and the difficulties in creating it than about nature. It doesn't have a real story to it, instead featuring snapshots of the lives of three characters—Penney, the Weatherman and the Gardener—as imagined by a painter only known as the Dreamer. As the Dreamer tries to create the characters in shades of gray, they take on a life of their own and demand to be seen in vibrant hues, and that conflict forms a central theme of the play, as the subjects of the paintings try to take control of their own stories.

It is ambiguous at times whether the artist is real and the others his fictions or the other way around, and that dynamic is one of the most intriguing aspects of the play. The other crucial theme is the cycle of creation and destruction of art as the Dreamer continuously rips up his paintings, overwhelmed with self-doubt. As the Claims Adjuster announces at one point, encompassing all of the uncertainty in this process of artistic creation, "We think fair weather is the norm. It isn't. It's the storm."

Music as Theater

The spoken opera, which contains choral unison sections and monologues that were once arias, highlights the musicality of the spoken word, but at times moves too quickly to be able to follow exactly what happens. That and the lack of stage directions in the play occasionally leaves the audience in a whirlwind of uncertainty, similar to what the characters are experiencing on stage. Accepting this disorientation, however, allows you to embrace the artistry and sense of the play even if much of the fine detail is lost.

It is difficult to judge the acting in a piece this surreal, but the five cast members took to the text with passion and dedication. Ethan Angelica's energy and anger as the Dreamer is particularly engaging, as is Helen Herbert as Penney, a young woman reveling in the simple pleasures of life. Elizabeth Seldin's position as the Claims Adjuster, who supposedly exists in the same world as the Dreamer, is the only one that is unclear, though she has some of the most powerful lines in the play.

Tornado Dreams is certainly a challenging play to perform and to understand, but it provides a fascinating new take on the struggles of the artist. If you're interested in the music of the spoken word, Turn to Flesh's monthly reading series continues with Minotaur.Toreros by Kato McNickle on September 25.

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