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'Peer Gynt' Gets a New Look in 'The Illusory Adventures of a Dreamer'

An unexpected adaptation of Ibsen’s classic opens at FringeNYC.

Photo by Michael Kushner

You may not have thought there would be much overlap between the sort of people interested in a modern adaptation of a classic Ibsen play and those interested in onstage orgies. But that's the beauty of the New York International Fringe Festival, where every show can have its moment in the spotlight.

The Illusory Adventures of a Dreamer is playwright Michael Bradley's attempt to transform Henrik Ibsen's identity crisis epic Peer Gynt  into an LGBT coming-of-age parable. Peer, a compulsive liar who is constantly bullied because of a perceived queerness he has yet to even admit to himself, finds in a charming young man the strength to set off on an adventure to find himself. Guided by a sort of spirit whose motives are unknown, Peer fights his way through forced prostitution, "pray the gay away" tormenters and misguided but well-meaning protestors to find his way back to his faithful love. But in this world of magic and malevolence, nothing is as it seems.

Under the direction of Chris Goodrich, this modern, streamlined Peer Gynt successfully evokes a timelessness that allows its disparate settings to all fit together, from Ibsen's small village life to the underworld of the Trolls. With next to no set and deliberately provocative costumes, this play draws on the power of storytelling, especially Peer's grandiose lies, to create the world. In fact, the only real set piece, the mirror where Peer first encounters his guide Boyg, is one of the weakest parts of the show; its makeshift maneuvering between real mirror and portal is distracting at best.

While the ensemble's movement work is impressive, some of the actors have trouble moving convincingly between over-the-top sexualized caricatures and the oppressive straight antagonists Peer encounters on his travels. Still, the strongest performers are those who bring a believable yet stylized presence to the stage, from Scott Lilly's companionate yet foreboding Boyg to Austin Jennings Boykin as the delightfully evil Troll King. Taylor Turner brings a grounded energy to our protagonist Peer that immediately separates him from the rest of the surreal dreamscape, while Geovanny Fischetti's ethereal and unwavering love as Solveig provides the first hint that we should not believe everything we see.

Coupled with casual pop culture references slipped into the script at important moments, these characters create a world in which you are never sure which reality is the real one. And guided by a habitual liar like Peer, why should it be any different? Though sometimes plagued with an aimlessness that makes even this condensed Peer Gynt feel longer than it needs to be, The Illusory Adventures of a Dreamer is a fascinating journey through the struggles of finding oneself as an LGBT individual in the modern world. For such an unexpected premise, Rhapsody Collective delivers an entertaining experience that is as thought-provoking as it is provocative.

The Illusory Adventures of a Dreamer plays at the Clemente through August 27 as part of the New York International Fringe Festival.

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