by Matthew A. Everett • August 2, 2008 • “Why don’t you know the rules of wishing?”
There’s a lot that’s worthy of praise in this ramshackle little production from Onomatopoeia Productions. The script for “Dandelion” takes a lot of chances – most significantly by starting the story and continuing much of it in the imaginary world which the lead character constructs in his head. That lead character, Paul, is brought to life in an intense and engaging performance. (Sadly, there wasn’t a program that connected character names to actors, nor was I able to find anything online to help me out in this regard.) Trust me when I say, if there’s a central figure in the ensemble of actors, it’s the actor portraying Paul. He’s onstage for the entire stretch of the play without a break, and he has to deal with some pretty grave stuff. The set itself, though a bit wobbly, is a nice feat of cardboard, black magic marker, and tape. The elements of the set have both impressive scale and texture, despite their often deliberate crudeness. When the whole thing comes tumbling down at the play’s climax, it’s a significant physical event.
Paul has a less than ideal home life. Mom and Dad are both hopeless drunks, and essentially miserable. Their divorce, though traumatic for Paul, must have come as enormous relief to his parents. Both Mom and Dad try in their own awkward stunted ways to connect with their son, but it doesn’t keep him from retreating into a world he creates himself, one over which he can exercise a lot more control. The fact that Mom and Dad can afford a psychologist for Paul is something of a miracle. The relationship between Paul and the doctor is also fraught with tension – sexual as well as emotional. The fact that the doctor can’t reach Paul causes the professional a great deal of pain. Just like his other relationships with adults, Paul almost but doesn’t quite make a meaningful connection. The fantasy friends in his head are a bit more direct, if not much more helpful. A girl with a rhyming name appears from nowhere and takes a liking to Paul, embarking on a peculiar courtship. Hovering in the background is an enormous, foul-mouthed shadow puppet, always ready to cut Paul down just as he might be gaining a little confidence.
All this may sound like standard dysfunctional family cliches, but it’s written and performed with a good deal of originality, attention to both literal and emotional detail, and a commitment to the truth of the story. In fact, some of the material is so effective, that it makes its point first time out of the gate, and probably doesn’t need to circle back again to the same place and same topics. The script might be able to do with a little trimming, then use that extra time gained to branch out in other equally unusual directions. The play is not without its humor, particularly when the girl with the rhyming name or the shadow puppet are set loose, but it’s largely an excavation of one teenager’s struggle with trying to find his place in the world, with no credible adult figures to help guide him. Naturally, he makes some mistakes. The production is so deliberate in its choices that it sometimes made me doubt my own kneejerk responses to it. For instance, the character of the doctor was often mouthing Paul’s lines as Paul said them – normally I’d assume that was the unconscious reflex of a nervous actor; here I actually started wondering if it was an acting choice. (“Is the doctor controlling him? mocking him? so in sync with him he knows what he’s going to say before he says it?” These are the kind of notions the production was prompting in my head as I watched.)
Like Paul’s imaginary cardboard world, “Dandelion” itself is a strange place to visit, but well worth the trip. Writer/director/producer/actor Zach Kolodjeski of Onomatopoeia is someone to keep an eye on. The same could be said of his cohorts onstage. If this is where they’re starting, who knows where they’re headed?
You can find more information at www.myspace.com/onomatopoeiaproductions
Video clip here
Entering his sixth year of blogging about the Minnesota Fringe Festival (and bringing Mom along for the ride as a guest reviewer), Matthew A. Everett is also a local playwright and three-time recipient of grant support from the Minnesota State Arts Board. Information on Matthew and his plays can be found at matthewaeverett.com.