If you enjoy intimate theatre, if you’re invested in supporting local and innovative performance companies, if you are as excited as I am to see the science-fiction genre further explored on-stage, stop reading this review and buy a ticket right now for Glass Mind Theatre‘s The Dum Dums. Once you’ve seen it, come back here and we can talk about some things.
The play is technically immersive and impressive, all the more significant considering the nomadic nature of the Glass Mind Theatre Company. The Lighting Design by Brad J. Ranno, the Sound Design by Stephen Polacek and the Set Design by Kate Smith-Horse transcends and transforms the audience’s awareness of space in a way I would not have thought possible given their constraints. Using a small array of scoops, LEDs, and flashlights the infinitely variable and flawlessly operated lighting display carries the narrative through a wonderful range of environments, both physical and psychological.
Only two source points broadcast a brilliantly complex stereo soundscape. A minimalist set built from papier-mâché and tape pays homage to the very best of the original Star Trek series, establishing a context for the performance from the moment you walk into the room. The staging too is impeccable; the limited seating effectively forms the walls of a starship that suspends disbelief and successfully transports the audience and actors both to a distant world.
The pity of it all is the distraction of the irrelevant visual arts exhibition surrounding the show. Perhaps due only to the incidental daylight remaining through my matinee viewing, but the exhibition currently on display at Gallery 788 fights for the viewers attention throughout the performance. Because the artwork bears no relevance to this production, it remains irritatingly distracting from start to finish. Please, donate to Glass Mind Theatre today so that they may secure a dedicated location and overcome this kind of obnoxious imposition.
The unseen Joshua Conkel steals the show as Linda, the ship’s audio-interface computer personality. With a wise-cracking personality reminiscent of Holly, the computer system from the BBC’s Red Dwarf television series, Conkel’s pacing and exquisite delivery is a welcome relief from the fast paced and eclectic narrative. The simply perfect comedic timing makes it hard to believe that Conkel isn’t physically present in the room; his performance is instead seemingly pre-recorded and delivered through an audio board, again a testament to the expert control of the show’s sole operator, Stage Manager Dawn Marie Kelley.
The staging is masterful across the board. All three actors, Liz Galuardi as Traeger, Ann Turiano as Schill, and Sam Hayder as Lambert (& others) seamlessly engage with the complex technical elements and flawlessly execute synchronized performances with aplomb. The physicality of each performance consistently delights and surprises. Turiano says that director Ben Kamine “brings a whole new bag of tricks—movement methods, style choices, and gestural work—to our group,” and it shows.
The play is billed as “a fully produced workshop,” meaning that playwright Joshua Conkel permitted Glass Mind Theatre to produce the play before it was finished, and unfortunately that shows too. I was immediately skeptical of a play about three women astronauts, written by a man, directed by a man, and carrying its dubious name, “The Dum Dums.” While not entirely offensive, my fears were not unfounded. The bulk of the narrative is delivered through hallucinatory episodes alternating between flashbacks to Traeger’s youth and a reenactment of Traeger’s favorite popular television show, both of which are pandering and vapid.
Most troublingly, the narrative development revolves around the somewhat offensive trope of female jealously and insecurity. Director Kamine writes in his director’s note that “the best science fiction casts humans into the future, only to find we are plagued by the same problems we are beset with today,” a sentiment I have trouble relating to this play. None of the characters’ development feels like anything that exists outside of thin and transparent popular media, with this play perpetuating unfortunate stereotypes with seemingly no philosophic objective. What Conkel has given us so far feels unfortunately shallow, ending abruptly after what feels like the second act B-movie crafted by a developing disciple of Quentin Tarantino. The script is not without promise or potential, but not there yet.
The three very capable flesh-and-blood actors feel more at home in their hallucinatory pop-TV parallels than in their primary roles; I would love to see each of them in a performance better suited to their age. Their performance is not aided by the dialogue, which is riddled by gratuitous profanity and belittling to the ostensible seriousness of the primary plot. This combines with their apparent youth to present the three astronauts as unintentionally immature and undisciplined. Each falls into their element along the way, but I long for more from these characters when portrayed outside of their intoxication. As described above, their physicality and stage presence were magnificent, and the revelation of Sam Hayder’s tattoo alone is worth the price of admission.
Jessica Ruth Baker’s creature design fits the production impeccably. Simple and understated, the astronaut’s garb designed by Kat McKerrow proves surprisingly versatile, remaining appropriate and believable throughout the play’s various twists and turns.
Indeed all of the trappings of this play are exquisite, but the foundation feels unfinished. That alone will not stay your enjoyment however, and the talent that is on display will entertain, fascinate and deliver you to a frontier unique in local Baltimore theatre.
Running Tim: Approximately 65 minutes with no intermission