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An End to Dreaming

nytheatre.com review by Chris Harcum
August 15, 2012

It is refreshing when a show flips my expectations a couple of times during its performance. Geppetto, the music duo of Emma Dean and Jake Diefenbach, certainly did that with this dark cabaret piece in which their songwriting and musicianship illuminated strongly.

Prior to seeing this show, most of my exposure to anything Goth consisted of watching the sketches involving Molly Shannon and Chris Kattan on Saturday Night Live in which they poked fun at the Goth genre and lifestyle. Their characters, Azrael Abyss and Circe Nightshade, wore black nail polish and capes, and hosted a cable-access show on which they lamented how they were misunderstood. It always ended with the tag-line “stay out of the daylight!” Still, armed with this little knowledge, I am pretty sure I had a leg up on the couple seated next to me who chose to see An End to Dreaming because they wanted to “see a light musical, rather than a heavy play.”

When Dean and Diefenbach entered the space wearing black nail polish and hooded capes, I was concerned this would cut too closely to Azrael and Circe. However, they took to their piano and keyboard and proceeded to not only overcome the Goth stereotype, but to let loose something utterly transcendent. There is little staging or narration in this piece. Just enough to get us to the next bit of incredible music these two make.

They unfold five parts of a song-cycle, which riffs on the Hansel and Gretel fairy tale, in just under an hour. Hardly ever looking at one another but always in synch, they create something of a live concept album. Rich in texture, haunting in tone, and breath-taking in performance, this evocative piece transported me. The simple themes both in music and story keep building into something more sophisticated and deep. Mid-way through the piece, the capes come off. (At the performance I attended, there was a synchronistic crack of actual thunder outside to punctuate this moment.) Suddenly, the great metaphor of how the life we live is a wilderness in which we are lost without bread crumbs sinks in. They tell us it is an act of surrender to move between the light and the dark, but eventually take us into the light in the end.

They play a brief encore in which they repeat the line “give me my favorite sins.” There is something so honest and universal about that and this is why this event goes beyond its style and genre into something more. It would be hard not to be mesmerized by the end of the evening. From the comments I heard in the hall after the show, I think that was true even for those expecting something with more jazz hands and less eye liner. Scouts from Galapagos should cross the East River and folks from Joe’s Pub should make the trip across Lafayette Street to see Geppetto perform this haunting and spare event.