Reg Henry: A dream realized — sleep now OK at theater

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With the approach of the lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer -- but enough about Congress for today -- there is news that may put you to sleep.

If I had been more alert, I would have mentioned this earlier. "Dream of the Red Chamber: A Performance for a Sleeping Audience," directed by Jim Findlay and staged underneath the Brill Building in New York City's Times Square, has come to the end of its run -- or its sleepwalk, as the case may be.

As one who likes nothing better than a good nap during a cultural event, I can only wish I had been there.

Unfortunately, The New York Times story informing me of the show only came out on May 17, the date of the last performance, which didn't give the casual reader in Pittsburgh much time to get out of bed and attend.

What a great idea, though. As Hamlet may have said: To sleep, perchance to dream; Aye, there's the ticket.

The show's website helpfully explained the concept yawning with possibility: "Conceived as a literal dream play -- the work is performed for an audience that is encouraged to experience the piece while they fall in and out of sleep.

"This durational performance installation invites the audience to take an immersive journey through Cao Xueqin's 18th century Chinese novel 'Dream of the Red Chamber' -- an epic love story between a stone and a flower, framed by a dizzying series of metaphysical dreams."

A couple of the performances were all-nighters. Although admission was free, donations were welcome and the website said that theatergoers who contributed $100 or more had access to a "house bed." No word on whether the ushers tucked them in.

According to the newspaper's story, sleepy cultural events are something of a trend. At the Rubin Museum of Art in Chelsea, patrons have put on their pajamas for a night's sleep in front of various artworks. At this event, docents did read them a bedtime story, possibly "Goldilocks and the Three Bearded Critics."

(With my luck, I'd be given a copy of Leonardo da Vinci's "Mona Lisa" to sleep under. That's all a man needs, a woman with an enigmatic smile staring at him all night in bed.)

At least in an art museum, patrons wouldn't miss any of the action if they caught 40 winks. But at the theater, I'd certainly want to stay awake for an epic love story between a stone and a flower, because it sounds like the sort of relationship many of us have experienced. Those stones, they can be hard.

This just goes to show that audience members who for years have been sleeping through films, plays or symphonies were not so much irritating as just ahead of their time. Now that they are trendy, my guess is that they'll probably wake up just to be more irritating.

Of course, it is the performers I feel sorry for. What does an actor receive at the end of an all-night dream play? A standing ovation or a horizontal ovation? Or just breakfast?

My first reaction to this trend was both relief and anxiety. Oftentimes I have made speeches on journalistic topics to find that my words have induced sleep for some in the audience. Were my delivery and material unusually soporific? Surely not, and now I am reassured on this point. The sleepy ones were just being artistic.

At the same time, I am anxious as an editorial writer, occupying the one branch of journalism that every day does a public service by soothing readers with yawn-inducing prose on a vast array of room-emptying subjects.

The New York Times can boast that it has "All the News That's Fit to Print," but the slogan of those who write a paper's opinion pages is "All the Print That's Fit for Bed." Why, I bet you are feeling a bit drowsy right now.

What a great professional shame it would be if police negotiators in emergency situations started calling in actors to calm hostage-takers instead of using the tried-and-true method of reading a nice opinion piece on natural gas pricing.

America's culture is changing at a frantic pace and it's enough to make anybody tired. You can go to sleep for one night and find that a new trend has totally passed you by. Or else you can fall asleep for one night and find yourself in an audience that is totally trendy.

If only Congress would go to sleep ...

Reg Henry: or 412-263-1668.

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