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Myth and reality mesh in 'Seven Dreams'

“Seven Dreams of Falling” is a performance of mythic proportions on a spare, stream-lined stage.

It’s a contemporary, literary and witty reality show of a dysfunctional family, a family business and Greek gods. Just like reality shows on TV, “Seven Dreams of Falling” doesn’t present easy answers or resolve at the 30-minute mark. Instead, one is left to wonder and question.

Based on the Greek myth of Icarus, “Seven Dreams of Falling” is about hubris, and also about failure. Icarus has one moment of distinction in the myth, when he flies too close to the sun and then plunges into the sea. That one moment has been memorialized time and again over 6,000 years of western culture.

In the play, Icarus’ story is entangled with those of Ariadne, Theseus and the Minotaur, and these stories populate and expand the myth, providing the basis and structure for the play.

“Seven Dreams of Falling” caught director Obed Medina’s attention when he saw it at the 2013 Hollywood Fringe Festival. Playwright Carey Scott Wilkerson was on hand at the Collaborative Theatre Project for Friday's opening-night performance.

“Myth helps us to understand our dreams,” Wilkerson says. “I want to find the mythic in daily life and also to find the ordinary daily substance in myth. For me these myths are not remote.”

Jacob Uhlman, who plays Icarus, is superb as a sullen, sarcastic youth, barely concealing the anger and frustration of his place in the family. His tall body and thin limbs are birdlike, his gestures graceful and his visage intense and observant. He’s the family business.

Daedalus, Icarus’ father played for laughs by John Richardson, is doggedly fixated on the math of his son’s ascent and descent, again and again throughout time.

Theseus, played by Payne! Smith, was once heroic and is now absurd, the marketing machine behind the business, tweeting away at every foot of Icarus’ abortive flight, pumping the myth again and again.

Beth Boulay as Ariadne is caught in the gossamer net as well, lost in love, beautiful and caustic on her lesbian blog.

What does it all mean?

The first act of “Seven Dreams of Falling” feels a little like a Saturday Night Live skit. It’s almost comical as each character plays stylized versions of themselves, stiff and formulaic, preening and inattentive to Icarus’ increasing discontent. The characters see Icarus only as object, themselves as actors on this stage of pseudo-Grecian life. Puns composed of literary allusions, feminist theory and theoretical physics fly, each batted about with subtle slyness.

The seven dreams of the play capsulize the narrative and move the play forward. It isn’t until Icarus’ fourth dream of falling that a sense of humanity is thrust into the production. Then, Icarus comes alive questioning his own reality, rejecting the inevitability of his role in the family and in western civilization.

Icarus, early the drama queen, is now painfully manipulated — emotionally and physically — by the others. Ariadne’s isolation becomes clear, and Theseus reveals his unspoken love for the Minotaur, played by Nicholas Jules Hewitt. Except for Daedalus, all are imprisoned, all long for freedom. They were myth and now they are human.

The CTP performances match the work of local artists to the concept of the play, and for “Seven Dreams of Falling,” Bruce Bayard’s ethereal and geometric works grace the theater. His series mirrors the sense of the play, clouds and skies suspended and poised in perfect stillness next to the hard lines and shapes of buildings and objects. Even more amazing in the curation of Bayard’s show is a piece he calls “Icarus.”

There are no clear resolutions, no neat endings in “Seven Dreams.” If you are one who prefers the 30-minute sitcom or crime show, commercial breaks to hit the fridge and all wrapped up in the end, don’t bother to see the play. If you want a literary production to think about and appreciate, “Seven Dreams” is for you.

CTP has been running for about a year now, and over that time we’ve seen some changes and enhancements that bring value to the venue and to the professionalism of the space. Set designers have worked out how to negotiate the high, deep space of the stage, seating is comfortable, and the sound system is finally balanced so that high notes and screams don’t hurt the ears.

Opening nights feature pastries and small savories, and beer and wine is available for purchase. It doesn’t feel crowded; instead, talk backs, like last night’s at “Seven Dreams of Falling,” are intimate and personal — more of a conversation than a lecture.

“Seven Dreams of Falling” plays at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays until Oct. 1, and Sundays at 1:30 p.m. The play has some adult themes and runs about 120 minutes with a 15-minute intermission. Tickets can be purchased at ctporegon.org, by calling 541-779-1055, or at the box office, 500 Medford Center, across from Tinseltown.

— Maureen Flanagan Battistella is a freelance writer in Ashland, Oregon and can be reached at mbattistellaor@gmail.com

John Richardson and Jacob Uhlman star in Collaborative Theatre Project's 'Seven Dreams of Falling.' [Photo by Obed Medina]