‘Memories and Dreams’: Double Edge Theatre returns to the fore with a new Summer Spectacle

  • Jennifer Johnson of Double Edge Theatre is seen in a scene from the Ashfield ensemble’s 2021 Summer Spectacle, “Memories and Dreams.” CONTRIBUTED/KIM CHIN GIBBONS

  • Travis Coe, left, and Angelique C’Dina appear in a scene from Double Edge Theatre’s “Memories and Dreams.” CONTRIBUTED/KIM CHIN GIBBONS

  • Giant puppets, like these fantastical animals in “Memories and Dreams,” are a trademark of Double Edge Theatre productions. CONTRIBUTED/KIM CHIN GIBBONS

  • This scene from “Memories and Dreams” provides a snapshot of Double Edge’s anticipated summer production for 2022, based on a play by the Greek playwright Euripides. CONTRIBUTED/DAVID WEILAND

  • CONTRIBUTED/DAVID WEILANDVeteran Double Edge ensemble member Carlos Uriano takes audience members on a walk through a outdoor maze. CONTRIBUTED/DAVID WEILAND

Staff Writer
Published: 7/30/2021 5:07:10 PM

Like so many theater companies, Ashfield’s Double Edge Theatre has faced big challenges in the past year during the pandemic, with COVID-19 forcing the ensemble to cancel some performances and recalibrate its rehearsals, as well as its training programs for aspiring actors.

But Double Edge has been in a better position to weather the storm, given many of its productions are geared for making use of its 105-acre property of fields, woods, waterways and gardens. And with a majority of people in the state now vaccinated against COVID-19, the ensemble, dodging raindrops through July, has created a new summer production, “Memories and Dreams,” that’s playing to good-size crowds.

If the audiences for “Memories and Dreams” are not quite at full capacity — 60 people per show rather than a typical 80 to 90 — it’s still a step up from Double Edge’s 2020 show, “6 Feet Apart, All Together,” a smaller production with an even smaller audience, which in turn was broken into smaller groups, each moving across the landscape separately; and with all attendees wearing face masks and the production avoiding the company’s large, renovated barn.

“Memories and Dreams” feels like a return to near-normal, with about 50 people involved in the production and the full range of Double Edge flourishes — dancing, music, aerial gymnastics, giant puppets, varied storylines — part of the work, including a scene in the barn.

Next year will mark the ensemble’s 40th anniversary, and this year is the 20th anniversary of the introduction of Summer Spectacles, so in some ways the new production looks back to the group’s beginning and to its future.

Though some of the recent Summer Spectacles have been designed along more distinct narrative lines — “We the People” in 2017-2018, for instance, evoked real-life figures from Ashfield and Massachusetts history — the new production offers a series of sketches based on past shows, along with some new material, that explore the power of memories and dreams to shape creativity.

The production has two parts, with the first component directed by Jeremy Louise Eaton, Double Edge’s director of design, and the second by Stacy Klein, the group’s founder and artistic director.

In creating the her part of the production, Eaton has opted for a mix of humor, movement, and one scene that’s quite unusual for Double Edge: near silence. In a sequence by a small creek edged by dense bushes, large manned puppets of fantastical animals — a bear-like creature with curved white tusks, another with a bird-like head — emerge from the foliage one by one to peer silently at the audience, while slowly moving back and forth.

The ensemble members inside these costumes demonstrate considerable nimbleness in negotiating narrow paths and a wooden walkway by the stream; the only sound comes from a few notes from a recorder and a drum played by musicians seated behind the audience.

Ghosts, music and more

In another sequence, ghostly figures, including one on an elevated, revolving pedestal, dance before the audience. Yet the production begins on a more humorous note, when longtime ensemble member Matthew Glassman, seemingly just helping usher audience members to their seats on wooden benches, looks around after a few moments of silence and then, as if suddenly remembering something, moves to the front of the crowd.

Glassman, playing a character called The Dreamer, tells the audience he’s had recurring dreams of late that he “must keep eating,” and he peels the shell from a hard-boiled egg and takes a bite. “It’s as though I’m fulfilling some promise,” he says. (He joked after a recent performance that he’d taken too big a bite that evening, choking himself a bit at first: “I had to just work through that.”)

Moments later, in one of the trademark scene shifts Double Edge uses, other ensemble members flood the scene, and Glassman leads them in a dance backed by some Klezmer-flavored swing — with clarinet, saxophone and other instruments sounding the tune.

Music has always been a big part of Double Edge productions, but it takes on even more potency in “Memories and Dreams,” as vocals and instrumentals seem to hang in the night air, often coming from unseen points, leading the audience from one scene to another and offering a dreamlike aural counterpoint to the visual one.

“Memories and Dreams” returns audience members to the barn this year for one indoor scene, though face masks are required. Ensemble member Travis Coe revisits a character he played in “We the People” — a young version of the Black writer and statesman W.E.B. Du Bois — in a scene based on a short story and a poem Du Bois wrote on the subject of Black pride. Coe is joined in the scene by four other characters, including Angelique A. C’Dina as Princess Steel.

The barn is two stories tall, but for safety reasons the upper story has been closed off by a huge cloth screen. Yet “Memories and Dreams” uses that to its advantage, as special lighting projects the shadows of ensemble members dancing and moving in the barn’s upper reaches onto the screen.

Carlos Uriona, a co-artistic director of the ensemble, leads one of the production’s best scenes as he revisits the 2015 Summer Spectacle, “Once a Blue Moon,” as a man recalls the village of his youth, long since flooded by the creation of a reservoir. In an overgrown field, Uriona speaks through the window of a prop that stands in for an old farmhouse, and as he reminisces about the past, the frames of other homes suddenly rise from the thick grass, more people appear, and some begin to dance: The village lives again.

“Memories and Dreams” closes with a haunting scene adapted from the ancient Greek tragedy “The Bacche” by Euripides. Ensemble member Jennifer Johnson, a co-creator of the piece, says it’s a snapshot of sorts of next summer’s production, which is expected to be a new interpretation of “The Bacche.”

The past year has ushered in all kinds of changes, and the enforced isolation of the pandemic has led many of us to search our own memories and to imagine a better future. In that sense, “Memories and Dreams” seems a fitting statement for the summer of 2021.

To find out more “Memories and Dreams,” which plays through Aug. 8, and other summer productions at Double Edge Theatre, visit doubleedgetheatre.org.

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.




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