The Dum Dums – Preastral Syndrome
This probably comes as no real shock, but I am a HUGE fan of The Twilight Zone. Every New Year’s Eve at least one channel would run a marathon and I cuddled in front of the warm glow of the T.V. set to binge watch ’em until dawn. And my favorites were always the ones that had to do with space. Episodes like “The Long Morrow” or “Death Ship”, humans hurtling in the cold and the dark, thinking to conquer but only, of course, being fucking conquered by the Zone. I loved it, but always noticed a glaring thing about these groovy willie-givers: the crews were manned, and I do mean manned, but a lot of Teds and Mikes and Pauls with nary a Helen or Debbie or Sandy to be seen. Indeed women in a lot of classic sci-fi are regulated to that whole TITnical ASSistance role, if they’re even there at all. Joshua Conkel’s The Dum Dums turns this idea over, with an intrepid and all-female crew (including, hilariously, the computer and the foreign planet herself). From the moment we hear the ominous words “Earth doesn’t answer!” we know that the journey of these lady-astronauts is probably not going to end well and we strap in for a helluva ride. Indeed, Navigator Jen Traeger (Liz Galuardi) and Captain Megan Schill (Ann Turiano) are in a sticky spot. Their couple-year planned for ride to a distant galaxy overshot and now they’re stuck with only Linda, the friendly yet slightly-bored flight computer (Joshua Conkel), on a miserable rock too far away. Jen loses her handle on things a little and begins to hallucinate, confusing reality with reality T.V., a whole different thing. Captain Schill tries her best, but at the end Sam Hayder, playing [REDACTED BECAUSE A SICK SPOILER] and it’s fucking out-of-this-world. In the program notes, playwright Conkel says that the genesis of the show was a fake diary that he kept as Jen Traeger while in the midst of a debilitating depression. Indeed, deep space as a metaphor for depression is not new and, for those of us who have struggled, remains apt. I wondered, initially, if The Dum Dums had shades of the “s” word (sexism). I came to the conclusion that a critique as such might be missing the point and may, indeed, be a bit lazy. I think Conkel is smarter than that, and so is the play. One cannot be so knee-jerk that one mistakes the subversion of tropes for the employing of tropes. The fact that Jen and Megan are actual light years away from an earth that no longer exists and still talking about getting fat and eating yogurt seems a sly joke on the brutal expectations placed on women – yeah, sure, you’re an astronaut, okay, but what about your love life? I recognized, especially in Navigator Traeger, that weird thing that crops up in myself where I’m a powerhouse feminist who also occasionally cackles over pictures of Kim Kardashian’s pregnancy feet on D-Listed. I’m not proud, but conditioning is powerful and anyone who says that they’ve escaped that gravitational pull is lying to themselves. The piece is unfinished and it feels unfinished, but it admits it and so there you have it. Galuardi is sensational, funny, yeah, but with enough pathos that we give a shit about her and really think she should lay off those White Castles for a hot sec. Her apathetic, slightly monotone delivery is witty, and she resists the urge to exaggerate. Turiano’s Captain Shill is DEFINITELY the Zoe; they say you either react to or react against and she’s reacting against. I liked her swagger (from the minute you meet her, she’s sitting in splayed knee, jerk-on-the-subway fashion) and her crippling sense of duty. Oh! Also! Girl has got some vocal fry that will not quit in the Real Housewives of Tau Ceti F scenes, the flip in her two personalities is extra-effective. And can we just talk about the stunningly-inked Sam Hayder for a minute? I think he’s one of the most brilliant and underrated performers working in Baltimore right now. He can go from space companion to nerdy boyfriend to girl-at-the-club to [AGAIN REDACTED YOU HAVE TO SEE IT TO BELIEVE IT] in the blink of an eye and completely convincingly. I’ve said before that his physicality is phenom, and it’s only becoming more developed as time goes on. One to watch, fur sure. Not much to say about the minimal tech (set design by Kate Smith-Morse, lighting by Brad J. Ranno) here, though I did like efficient “spaceship on a budget” motif that utilized blinking colored lights and floor tape to great effect.
BOTTOM LINE: You can feel a-okay about flying away with Glass Mind for The Dum Dums. The show is a refreshingly weird, interestingly performed, and adroitly written fantasyscape you’ll die for. Maybe literally. It’s space. Who knows?
Running by Glass Mind Theatre at Gallery 788 until April 4th
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