Theatre LILA's The Suitcase Dreams
The Suitcase Dreams by Theatre LILA is so good, I don't want you to read this review. Instead, I'd rather you go see it, like I did, without knowing too much. I want you to sit down in the slightly uncomfortable seats of Overture Center's Promenade Hall without having any idea what you're about to experience. I want you to be as surprised and charmed as I was on opening night. But if you're still reading, it's okay. I won't give away too much.
Directed and choreographed by Jessica Lanius, The Suitcase Dreams is made up of a series of original vignettes -- some funny, others sad, and many deeply moving. They come and go like dreams, startling and ethereal. Some tell a story and others just hint at an emotion or provide a glimpse into a single moment. And every single one involves a suitcase.
Here, the suitcases aren't just pieces of cardboard and leather. They are precious vessels for important things; they hold the characters' lives. In The Suitcase Dreams, light spills from suitcases, and characters emerge and depart from them. These pieces of luggage trouble and support, they become gifts and burdens. They are characters in their own right.
The cast of The Suitcase Dreams is jaw-droppingly impressive; these are accomplished actors with extraordinary resumes. Each of the 12 takes on multiple roles, and each does so brilliantly, as if channeling spirits. Theatre LILA aims to "value teamwork as a creative force," and that's embodied in this production. There are no leads and no small parts; every actor has the chance to play a starring role.
The youngest member of the cast, 12-year-old Emma Dias, moves seamlessly between child and adult, at one moment seeming girlish and, in the next, surprisingly sophisticated. Michael Huftile and Michael Herold are unforgettable as a pair of clowns. They're funny, but in a way that's complex and satisfying. Real humanity runs through their back-and-forth. Herold also shines in a heartbreaking scene with Mark Snowden as an old couple leaving their longtime home. As Cartier D'Amour, Amanda Connors makes the perfect noir femme fatale. She shimmers in crystal under the lights, her shoulders covered by a fur stole.
Costumes, by Monica Butler, not only define the many characters, they contribute to the dreamlike feel of The Suitcase Dreams. Mike Lawler's set and Jason Fassl's light design create a space that's just right for the show. A runway-style stage splits the hall, dividing the audience in two. One end is bracketed by a light-filled screen that gradually changes color. Opposite it sits an enormous picture frame, bathed in red light, behind which three musicians provide live accompaniment.
The sound of the hang drum (a UFO-shaped instrument that sounds like a steel drum), played by Shlomo Calvo, complements the dreamy production. The live music works in synchronicity with the performance, punctuating the actors’ dance-like movements perfectly.
There's abundant magic in this show by Madison newcomer Theatre LILA. The Suitcase Dreams poetically shares stories of the things we carry through our lives with joy, honesty and playfulness. Simply put -- as one of the clowns jubilantly exclaims in a French accent -- "It is beautiful!"