Surreal embodiments of ‘The Human Dream Project’ at NYC’s The Tank

Launched by artist Admiral Grey in June of 2022, The Human Dream Project Dream Hotline (1-845-215-7073) is a phone number that people can call at any time, 24 hours a day, to recount their dreams, which are recorded and added to the Dream Archive – an international collection of stories from our time that have manifested in the callers’ minds while sleeping. A selection of those recordings provided the basis for the new multimedia stage presentation of The Human Dream Project, now playing a limited Off-Off-Broadway engagement, through April 28, at The Tank.

Nicolas Panken, Brandt Adams, Zibby Jahns, Nat Marvan, and Rakel Stammer. Photo by Michelle Lobianco.

Created and directed by Grey, the original one-act performance piece is comprised of eleven vignettes, each with a voiceover of the caller’s recorded description, brought to life with an inventively scrappy array of handmade puppets, costumes, and props composed of repurposed materials (for which Grey also serves as lead designer and fabricator), delivered by members of the Snake in the Boot Collective (puppeteers and devisers Brandt Adams, Zibby Jahns, Nat Marvan, and Rakel Stammer, and puppeteers, musicians, and devisers Nicolas Panken and Madeline Yara), and enhanced by live music and an evocative foley soundscape by composer, sound designer, musician, and music director Chad Raines.

The show opens with a brightly colored lively clown puppet that serves as host peeking out from behind the sheer proscenium curtain, in front of which it performs acrobatic flips, splits, and cartwheels center stage, before it opens to a bare liminal space surrounded by mismatched patterned drapes (set by Krit Robinson) and a sequence of embodied and enacted dreams, with smooth transitions from one improbable unrelated fantasy to the next – as if we, too, were dreaming.

Brandt Adams. Photo by Michelle Lobianco.

The arcane visions include a passenger on a flight watching a woman sitting freely on the wing of a plane; a mother’s face in the rotor of a windmill seeing and laughing at her child rolling down a cliff towards the ocean; a guest who feels out of his league at an upscale party in a mansion; a dancing purple octopus that emerges from a building and becomes dejected when a zookeeper takes it back inside; a “slug snake” in a natural history diorama surrounded by books kicking a child who professes she found her true love; a foster child floating in complete darkness with illuminated orbs that go out one by one; flying and floating around a crescent moon with a dangling bell in the snow (represented as bubbles); a ride in a submarine that ends on the beach with the visit of the dreamer’s dead father who uncharacteristically radiates light; a huge mouth with teeth that keep falling out; and a woman whose boyfriend had sex with his best friend shifting to different locales and then tying her shoes and searching online for a trip to New Zealand. It ends with a bird attempting to lift a huge tortoise in a field with a fawn, bunny, toad, and little bird on its back, as it moves into the theater, up the center aisle, and is met by the puppet clown host at the door, who signals the stage curtain to close.

Nicolas Panken, Zibby Jahns, Nat Marvan, Madeline Yara, and Rakel Stammer. Photo by Michelle Lobianco.

All of the strange, seemingly random and illogical scenes – filled with puppets of different sizes, body parts, species, and objects, stylized ethereal movements, sound effects and percussion that accentuate the imagery, supplemental video projections, and lighting by Masha Tsimring that sets the illusory moods – are suggestive of a dreamlike state that is often wild and funny, sometimes disturbing, and always ripe for psychoanalysis and interpretation, as subconscious manifestations of the innermost concerns and unresolved issues of the people who shared them – and, by extension, everyone (e.g., the realization of the voice on the recording that she’ll never be as free as the woman she dreamed of on the wing of a plane).

Brandt Adams, Nat Marvan, and Nicolas Panken. Photo by Michelle Lobianco.

As a sensory work of experimental theater, The Human Dream Project is a transporting and provocative look at one aspect of our shared experience and what our minds are trying to tell us through the symbolism and metaphors that emerge during sleep, while engaging us with creative puppetry, sound, and movement. Enter the dreamworld at The Tank to be uniquely entertained and leave contemplating the messages inherent in these recounted dreams – and in your own.

Running Time: Approximately 60 minutes, without intermission.

The Human Dream Project plays through Sunday, April 28, 2024, at The Tank, 312 West 36th Street, NYC. For tickets (priced at $25-50, plus fees), go online. All attendees and artists are required to have two doses of an approved COVID-19 vaccine; audience members are also required to wear masks when not eating or drinking.


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