Swedish playwright August Strindberg’s 1901 “A Dream Play” is a notoriously difficult piece to stage. It is dramatic insofar as a series of elliptical, fragmentary and surreal moments can constitute drama. The action is more mystical than mesmerizing: the daughter of a heavenly Goddess has come down to Earth to experience human suffering so as to better understand us. And the author’s point is quickly and repeatedly made: life is unbearable but love shall overcome. Thankfully, Jacklyn Biskup’s staging of this seminal piece of expressionism for The Mill Theatre—formerly known as Experimental Theatre Chicago—never uses the script as an excuse for self-indulgent performance-art pretentiousness, but it also doesn’t use it as a springboard from which to create a stunning physical production to equal or rival the play’s phantasmagoria. It certainly isn’t for lack of trying: Biskup’s directorial imagination is on the right track, interpreting Strindberg’s dream world through an intimate, chamber-like production peppered with evocative stage pictures, melancholic music, atmospheric lighting, eerie vocalizations, slow motion staging and cinematic techniques that have actors materialize from out of a dark shadows into the foreground. But it all feels rather safe, and rarely is it the hallucinogenic experience suggested by the play’s title or the production a strong example of the Mill’s mission to help promote alternatives to American realism and encourage theatrical risk taking. The only risk here seems to have been limited to producing this seldom seen and problematic play in the first place. (Fabrizio O. Almeida)
Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Division, (800)838-3006. Thu-Sat 8pm/Sun 4pm. $10-$20. Through July 29.