Monday, September 10, 2012

CPT's Pandemonium dreams

The dreams began before anyone stepped inside Cleveland Public Theater on Saturday night. Sleepers posed in night clothes on the sidewalks, eyes closed, ignoring the hundreds of guests walking past. Others dozed on and near the staircase past the lobby.

Guests had to take care to walk around the actor-sleepers as they entered Pandemonium, CPT's annual benefit and celebration of creativity. Soon there was no getting around the metaphor. For two hours, actors, dancers and musicians at 24 performance spaces explored the night's theme, dreams and the imagination.

Pandemonium aims to overwhelm. Near the outdoor stages, a Mexican Day of the Dead procession snaked past flamingo-imitating dancers from MorrisonDance. Nearby, five actors and several bemused guests sat at a long table for "The Inventor's Tea Party." A butler turned a giant key in the characters' backs -- they were the inventions, unaware that the party's host had created them.

Downstairs in CPT's Parish Hall building, an actor in a red room read from a giant copy of Jung's Red Book, a journal of the dream theorist's own dreams. "I wanted to throw everything away and return to the light of day," he intoned, "but the spirit stopped me and forced me back into myself."

One of the night's best pieces, "Inquietude," was performed in the "Boogieman's Closet," a tiny room just off the theater lobby, decorated with an eerie mix of found objects. A dozen guests at a time were guided in and made to stand in a rectangle marked on the floor.

Then actor Andrew Gombas entered, stalked around the audience in the near-dark, and with suspense-thriller timing, pulled a sheet off Melissa Crum, crouched in a corner. The nightmarish moments in the characters' dialogue, along with the unnerving light effects and score, created a Blair Witch Project-like menace -- though the lighter moments of their dream evoked child-like play, as when they imagined themselves in a spaceship careening toward Saturn.

Back on the main stage, attorney Fred Nance and his wife Jakki, a past Ohio Arts Council chair, received CPT's Pan Award for support of the arts. Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson and councilmen Joe Cimperman and Matt Zone joined the Nances onstage. But the biggest political star power came from Dennis and Elizabeth Kucinich, who attracted fans' friendly chatter as they moved through the room.

The evening peaked with two surreal annual highlights of Pandemonium, an aerial silk dance (by Leslie Friend) and the arrival of the human dessert trays.

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