The vast majority of our formative years are spent asking our parents to protect us from the monsters under our bed. We forced them check under the bed and in the closet, and even occasionally made them lay in bed with us when we were scared. My parents even made me dreamcatchers to protect my dreams against them. But what happens when our parents aren’t there to protect us?
The Jabberwocky, originally a nonsensical poem by Lewis Carroll, has been adapted and directed by Ethan Koerner from Northwestern College, to answer that exact question. The story follows a child, who after being read the titular poem by their mother, falls into a dream world where they receive no parental protection from the literary horrors that await them within. The plot is split into several different scenes, each one visualizing a unique and important moment from the original poem.
Koerner’s production is meant to pique the interest of imagination immersion as concepts. The entire production feels like a twenty-minute dreamscape. I felt as if I was placed inside the mind of the main character, that I was also falling asleep and waking up in a world filled with unknown wonder and terror. However, my experience with The Jabberwocky, probably strayed farther from the perceived intention than expected. Koerner and his ensemble attempted to immerse the audience through the use of phone applications and mock “tour guides” leading us through the different parts of the boy’s imagination. However, I just did not respond well to the audience interaction. I think that the production works well as a separated entity, if the audience is forced to set back and watch the boy navigate his dreamscape. After, if his parents cannot protect him, neither should we.
The ensemble of the Northwestern College theatre program has done a brilliant job of combining limited vocal work (primarily recitation of the poem) with masterful non-verbal puppeteering. The ensemble has clearly spent a long, difficult journey attempting to bring life to simple constructs. Therein lies the main issue, a vast majority of the time theatre is performed using actors expressing emotions. The transferal of emotion and movement from human body to lifeless body, and the ability to give a simple puppet the appearance of complex and vivid movement is not one to laugh at. Koerner and ensemble managed to make me see this puppet as a living entity. I rooted for his success and was scared for his failure. I actually felt as if I am reliving a dream from my childhood.
My many thanks go out to both the production and design teams, for without them my shared dream experience would not be possible. After all, what good is a dream if you cannot describe it visually? Ethan Koerner returns to the dreamscape once more as the scenographer. Koerner and his assistants, Altman, Schaeffer, and Van Gorp, along with the scenic and properties crew, were responsible for the largest and perhaps the most important task of all: creating not only the dreamscape, but also the characters within the dreamscape. They made the monsters, the creatures, the boy, and just about everything else you can think of. For the amount of work placed on their shoulders, the work turned out astonishingly well.
However, all of their work placed behind an unlit surface yields nothing but emptiness. The dreamscape they envisioned, and the one I experienced would not have been made possible without the help of Drew Schmidt and their lighting, sound, and technologies crews. The design is simple and primitive, for good reason. A complex, jaw-dropping design for this production just is not needed, and I can tell that Schmidt understood this. The same can be said about the underscore they created, along with the help of Frances DeArmond. Simple and effective. Why muddy a digital production with frivolous light and sound design, when the majority of it will not transfer through a computer screen anyways? Some dreamscapes are chalk full of vibrant imagery, others can be dull and drab, and I see no issue with either.
At the end of the night, when I, and many others, awaken from our shared dream-like experience we realize how incredible Koerner’s production is. This production did a fantastic job of making me actually feel as if it were I dreaming, fighting to protect myself from the Jabberwocky. Some say the pen is mightier than the sword. But is the dreamcatcher I wonder?