Demon Dreams: A Child-Friendly Play about Mass Death
Playwright Tommy Smith's newest work, Demon Dreams, could hardly be more different from his last, White Hot. Where White Hot crackled with sickness and sex and secrets and ended with blood on the walls, Demon Dreams weaves parables about human virtues and is full of chanting and laughing. White Hot was traumatizing; you could (and should) bring children to Demon Dreams.
Directed by West of Lenin's owner/proprietor A. J. Epstein, Demon opens with the sounds of a splattering storm (the night I attended, that could've been piped in from outside) and a trio of demons in a post-apocalyptic world sitting around a campfire, discussing the deliciousness of babies. Soon, three immortal women dressed in white arrive, and a storytelling battle commences. The immortals want to convince (or remind) the demons of the true story behind the disappearance of humanity; the demons mostly just want a snack. They all take turns telling (and editing) each other's stories and acting them out, occasionally over a beat.
The actors charge in with brio. The play is not actually for children, but it feels a bit like you went to a children's theater because you were babysitting your nephew, and then everyone decided to bring their A-game and also mess up the end of every story. Limbs and voices twist; the inanimate (fire, trees, rain) is animated. Often, it veers toward cute or silly, and then something reels it back—a self-aware joke drops at the right time or the story goes off the rails or an actor's delivery lampoons the sweetness of a line. "What are you doing later?" a maiden asks a poor woodcutter who's banished to the forest because of his horribly disfigured face. "Chopping wood and then crying," he says matter-of-factly.
Taken as a whole, though, Demon doesn't rein in its tendencies toward goofiness. When it fails, it fails admirably and wholeheartedly (some of the spoken word/music portions—I am not calling it hiphop—are cringe-y or uncomfortable, but the actors go full force anyway). But when it succeeds, it doesn't quite reward you for your patience. The thesis appears to be something like "people have the capacity for both good and evil"—which is not particularly untrodden territory.