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Daniel S. Kramer Reinvents ‘A Dream Play’ in Farkas Hall

By Sabrina G. Yates, Contributing Writer

The collaborative effort of Harvard’s Theater, Dance and Media concentrators, professional staff members from around the globe, and American Repertory Theater Institute actors culminates in director Daniel S. Kramer’s unique rendition of “A Dream Play.” Creating a professional-quality show—the second in the TDM Department’s history—while simultaneously mentoring students at both Harvard and the ART's Institute for Advanced Theatre Training provided Kramer with a unique opportunity outside of the limits of commercial theater. “It was a great opportunity to explore one of the greatest pieces of avant-garde theater ever written, perhaps, and explore it in a safe context where failure was the only option and where I’d be working with really keen and ambitious minds,” Kramer says.

Fans of August Strindberg’s 1901 “A Dream Play” should expect to see a radically different version of the show. “I’ve cut probably 30 to 40 percent of Strindberg’s original, because it’s just… unperformable without an embarrassing sense of irony. It’s dated,” Kramer says. He describes “A Dream Play” as an exploration of how the American Dream has evolved. The plot follows Agnes, a daughter of the gods, after she enters Earth and experiences the struggles of daily human existence.

Thomas W. Peterson ’18, a joint concentrator in TDM and history and literature who acts in “A Dream Play” and serves as Kramer’s assistant director, considers the show meaningful to this generation for a number of reasons. “I think the way this adaptation works contemporizes this quite abstract play in a lot of exciting ways making it relevant—sometimes overtly, sometimes implicitly—to a lot of contemporary issues, from the presidential election to the Black Lives Matter movement to broader gender tensions in global politics,” Peterson says.

According to Kramer, one of the largest obstacles to overcome in producing “A Dream Play” was reimagining this pre-war play as one to which Harvard students could relate and feel passionate about. “It was finding a language that would keep, I hope, an MTV, video game, Mac desktop, Safari-web-surfing, social media audience engaged,” Kramer says. However, since the play explores so many controversial themes, Kramer wonders how exactly audiences will react to his rendition of the play. “I’m curious what audience’s responses will be to themes from their cultural and political and philosophical universe being unpicked in front of them.”

According to Ricky B. W. Davis Jr., an ART Institute student, the second-ever departmental show has proven a rewarding experience. “Everyone is bringing a lot of energy daily and just love and passion and really driving this forward, and it’s been a great process.”

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

CORRECTION: November 10, 2016, at 11 p.m.

A previous version of this article incorrectly reported that the play featured American Repertory Theater actors, rather than acting students at the American Repertory Theater's Institute for Advanced Theatre Training.

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On CampusTheaterArtsTheater Dance and Media