The Lathe of Heaven
nytheatre.com review by Richard Hinojosa
June 8, 2012
If you had the power to change the world, would you do it? Or would you let the world and all of its complex realities change as time and nature intended? This is the central question that sci-fi adapter extraordinaire Edward Einhorn culls from Ursula Le Guin’s The Lathe of Heaven. The production is a beautiful tapestry of music, video and emotion that evokes the provocative ideas of this enduring novel.
Set in the year 2002 (the near future when it was written in the '70s) in Portland, Oregon, our main character, George Orr, realizes that his dreams affect reality. He dreams his aunt dies in a car wreck and the next morning she never existed and no one remembers her except for him. He tries to stop the dreams with drugs and gets caught and is sent to “voluntary” mental rehab with a neurologist named Dr. Haber. Haber soon begins to believe that Orr can actually effect change with his dreams and he starts suggesting changes to Orr while he is hooked up to Haber’s “Augmentor” which helps him put Orr into a deep sleep. Once Orr realizes that Haber is using him he enlists the help of a lawyer named Heather Le Lache. Le Lache comes to a session to inspect the Augmentor in use but it’s too late. Haber suggests to a sleeping Orr that overpopulation is a problem and the next thing they all know there has been a terrible plague that has wiped out three quarters of the human race. Problem solved? No, not so much. As it turns out Orr’s dreams cannot be controlled with any precision so every suggestion goes slightly or terribly awry. Haber suggests a fix for racism and suddenly everyone has gray skin. Peace on Earth comes as an alien invasion so we can stop fighting each other and focus on a common enemy.
Einhorn pulls a lot of wonderful dialogue out of the novel and that has the effect of creating powerful emotional reactions to all the twists in reality as the characters begin to have double memories of events. Einhorn chooses to shy away from exposition or narration and that at times creates plot gaps that, unless you are familiar with the novel, may leave you a little lost in the story, and causes some of the dialogue to come across as disconnected to the action. Still, the dialogue that Einhorn utilizes follows a precise arc of passion that certainly draws you into the characters’ dilemma. His direction is sleek and seamless. His vision of a crumbling dystopia is brilliantly reinforced by eye-popping, floor-to-ceiling video projections designed by Kate Freer. This is the perfect way to show a world of dreams! Henry Akona composes a delightfully gloomy score for just a cello and a piano. Cellist Michael Midlarsky and pianist Melissa Elledge play with warmth and impact that mirrors the action. Singer John Gallop III’s voice soars into play with lyrics inspired by the Tao Te Ching. The music is incredible!
Equally incredible is the cast. The always rousing Robert Honeywell plays Orr. Honeywell crashes into this role, beginning as a neurotic nut job and slowly becoming more resolved and confident. Eric Oleson plays Dr. Haber much more static and unchanging in his convictions even as he sees the world falling apart. Caroline Samaan is Heather Le Lache. Samaan delivers a commanding performance of a woman trying to find balance between nature and technology, race and culture, peace and conflict. Her monologue at the end of Act One is compelling and sends us baited into intermission.The Lathe of Heaven is yet another jewel in Einhorn’s crown of sci-fi adaptations. It is well conceived and the acting, music, video and script come together to create high production value. I highly recommend checking this one out. The concepts are thought-provoking and may cause you to think about the reality you occupy in a different way.