Republic of Dreams: Under the Sign of the Crocodile at the Charlestown Working Theater

Attracting a great deal of attention with a 2006 production of The Three Musketeers that used wide swaths of their compound in Ashfield, Massachusetts as its stage, Double Edge Theatre returns to their original home of Boston with Republic of Dreams: Under the Sign of the Crocodile, which runs through October 13th. Inspired by the life and work of Polish artist Bruno Schulz, a victim of the Nazi occupation in 1942, this brief but engrossing piece is a hallucinatory vision of surreal somnambulism. Lacking any kind of narrative linearity, the performance relies on its visual innovation and the committed physicality of its actors to accomplish its goals, and it does not disappoint.

Developed by the company under the direction of Double Edge founder Stacy Klein, Republic opens with three of its actors already onstage as the audience enters the intimate space of the Charlestown Working Theater. The piece’s central figure, referred to alternately as Joseph and Bruno (Matthew Glassman), sits at a rough table illuminated by candlelight, flanked by his mother (Carroll Durand) and father, Jacob (Carlos Uriona). (The cast also includes actors Hayley Brown, Jeremy Louise Eaton, and Richard Newman.) They are dappled with shadow as Durand sings softly. This quiet family scene is brought to an abrupt end just after the house lights fall, and from that point there is no respite as the company barrels full-bore into an exploration of the subconscious that packs a much longer show’s emotional impact into less than an hour.

Glassman’s character is less a protagonist than a narrator hampered by his own involvement in the events he describes. Enveloped in his cloak and dented top hat, Joseph/Bruno moves through sequences of dialogue, monologue, and song that, despite having no kind of traditional plot, flow effortlessly into one another. The company uses both the minimalist set pieces and their own bodies as props to create a series of tableaux that pass along the spirit of Schulz’s work much more powerfully than any words that are spoken. Speech becomes an auditory counterpoint to the kinetic spectacle, combining with the intermittent piano accompaniment into a delicate soundtrack rather than carrying any sort of central burden of attention. Actors emerge from and vanish back into a rolling wardrobe, switching characters as easily as costumes, as time and place become abstract concepts and the company explores Schulz’s visions of story, sexuality, and consciousness.

The frantic energy reaches its apex as Uriona, clad in a fireman’s hat, yellow raincoat, and white leotard, moves from atop the wardrobe onto a trapeze of ribbon that falls from the ceiling, delivering a rambling passage as Glassman cowers beneath him. If there is any climax to the piece, it can be found in this moment. Soon after, the company gradually trickles away from the stage. Glassman is the last to depart, vanishing abruptly into the wardrobe and leaving the audience in doubt as to whether they have truly reached the finale.

Republic of Dreams brings viewers into and out of a world that existed before the theater doors opened to admit them and continues to exist after they depart. This is no easily encapsulated scripted play, but rather a presentation of emotion and ideas. There are moments at which Republic may feel indulgent, or too ephemeral to have any true weight. When taken as a whole, however, Double Edge’s latest production is a worthy tribute to a visionary talent and an enticing artwork in its own right.