NIGHTMARE DREAM by Motion, conceived and directed by Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu, with Peter Bailey, Neema Bickersteth, Jane Miller, Joshua Browne and Rodney Diverlus. Presented by ift theatre, Newface Entertainment and Obsidian at Campbell House (160 Queen West). Opens tonight (Thursday, January 9) and runs to January 26 (see website for performance times). $18-$35. nightmare-dream.com. See listing.
Every immigrant has to question where home is - whether it's one's country of origin or a new land.
That question strikes Simon Dube, the central figure in Nightmare Dream, in a visceral fashion. An immigrant to Canada, where he's doing grad work in African studies, he learns of his father's death back in Africa and must decide whether to return to perform a ritual burial ceremony.
Caught in the fever dream of the title, the confused Simon goes on an inner historic and cultural journey, looking not only at his background but also at what he's repressed.
That journey is a literal one for the character and the audience as they follow Simon through the rooms of Campbell House Museum as he tries to reconcile past and present.
The show grew out of a SummerWorks production, Dancing To A White Boy Song, that writer Motion and conceiver/director Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu presented years ago.
"We wanted to look at the African immigrant experience, about it being a dance you do to a different cultural beat," says Otu. "Initially we thought it would be a black/white discussion, but it turned out to be more about a cultural disconnect and what it means to be the other.
"With Nightmare Dream, we're continuing the discussion, with the addition of a larger historic framework that influences Simon's thoughts and attitudes."
The current show began for Otu as a series of images. One was of a row of white women dressed in white and carrying black children, along with a single old black woman also with a black child. Another was of a drowning man struggling to save himself.
That led to some thoughts about devising a series of visual installations. Otu thought that a historic building like Campbell House would enhance the metaphor of the other.
"Simon, after all, feels connected to the West; he's made his home here. It's his own culture that has become, for him, the other. The show looks at history from his perspective, who he is in various historical contexts and physical spaces."
First presented last year during Black History Month, the show made striking use of Campbell House, with its Georgian architecture and link to colonial culture. The current run, again presented by ift theatre and Newface Entertainment, is part of Obsidian Theatre's Presentation Series.
Otu and Motion, in fact, met at Obsidian; the former was an apprentice director and the latter playwright in residence.
The various rooms influenced the kind of scenes that make up the production, explains Otu. The front parlour, for example, becomes the setting for an afternoon tea for Simon and a queen who controls a large empire and doesn't want to give up the benefits provided by the various native populations she rules.
Nightmare Dream blends music, song and dance along with text that draws in part from African writers of various periods.
"I see the expression of character as a multidisciplinary concept," notes the director. "It's not just a matter of using words, but also sound and movement. That's part of the spiritual nature of being human. Not only are song and dance part of traditional African ritual and expression, but working non-verbally allows us to explore Simon's psychology more deeply."
Though Simon was originally from South Africa, his birthplace is now unnamed.
"That's an important part of the African immigrant experience," he says. "People start to identify as African rather than being from a specific nation. Members of the African community see themselves as part of a larger picture, and the historical context of the play offers one aspect of that picture."