With Forum Theatre’s world premiere presentation of Meena’s Dream, written and performed by Anu Yadav, the theatre-going audience is given that rare glimpse into the mind of a child.
… Meena’s Dream is a dream worth having.
In this case, we have Meena–age 9, of Indian descent, her father dead from mysterious causes, her mother struggling with personal health and family economics, her own anxieties mounting over a world growing ever more threatening, her dreams ever more epic filled with terrifying journeys of Jungian proportions.
Set in her small bedroom, in somewhere city USA, Meena lives with her mother and goes to school and loves stories and dreams of space adventures and mythological battles with the Worry Machine.
We have all been there, with Meena, as the problems begin to mount, as the doubt begins to grow, and with it the sadness and the inability to sleep. We have all had to fight those wars.
And that is exactly what makes Meena’s Dream such a delight to experience. Although Anu Yadav’s portrayal of Meena is wonderfully distinct, and Meena is quite the “Idiosyncrat,” she is also the Every Child, who like Peter Pan, does not want to grow up so fast, but who wants to dream, to imagine a world free from fear, free from that dastardly Worry Machine throbbing beneath every breath we breathe.
The story of Meena’s Dream is simple. Meena will not go to sleep at night. She wants her mother to tell her a bedtime story. Her mother, suffering from what appears to be asthma (or something even worse), tells her tales of Krishna, the incarnation of Vishnu, even though she has long since stopped believing in such divinities.
Unfortunately, the stories only excite Meena more, so that when she sleeps she soon dreams, and her dreams soon turn to nightmares. Meena’s mother must then calm her highly imaginative daughter.
Meena goes to school where she suffers the world as an outsider. She is tormented girlishly by a classmate named Judy, who heckles her about BO and her non-Christian identity.
Meena’s mother is having trouble making ends meet. Even though she works a lot, irregular hours–perhaps at a hospital, perhaps somewhere else–she is forced to make tough choices between food, rent, medicine, car expenses, etc. The rent is past due; her medicine needs a refill, which means a new doctor’s visit, which means….
So Meena takes on the challenge of filling her mother’s prescription.
The strength of Meena’s Dream lies in its fierce commitment to Meena’s POV. We come to understand Meena’s world through her eyes: we do not want to care about why things are so bad for Meena’s mother. We do not want to care why Meena is having such trouble making friends. We do not want to care about why she is having so many scary dreams. We, like her mother, just want Meena to grow up healthy and strong and free to dream whatever she wants to dream and become.
On the few occasions when the script loses that child’s perspective, and the tale slips us into a more objective eye, and we start to ask why things are so bad, the story tremors a bit. That Pandora of realism and its plethora of sociological details begin to wash away the mythological world of Meena the Warrior, which we have grown accustomed to seeing and knowing, a world discovered through her and the voices of her Truth Trees and the swagger of her cool Krishna guardian angel.
Fortunately, those slips are indeed rare, and Ms. Yadav’s performance is a marvelous antidote to analysis. She gives us clear, quite magical depictions of Meena and her mother, Judy and Krishna, and the various other smaller beings who inhabit her tale of wonder and fear. She brings the play’s dialogue to life, shifting vocally and physically between parts with precision and imagination.
Director Patrick Crowley and his design team have also done a splendid job conceiving of this adolescent dreamscape. John Bowhers’ set is simple, direct, and an island. When Sarah Tundermann’s lights hit it, it transforms. Ivania Stack’s costuming of Meena emphasizes Ms. Yadav’s long lines and dynamism.
A major component of Meena’s Dream, however, is its musical score, written and performed by Anjna Swaminathan, Rajna Swaminathan, and Sam McCormmally. From their preshow musical mix of string and percussion to their underscoring of the action throughout, the compositions support the story as it unfolds. Then with Thomas Sowers’ sound design adding special effects, the world of Meena’s Dream is complete.
Though not exactly a show for young audiences, Meena’s Dream is most definitely family friendly and would inspire long conversations around the dinner table about the effects of family stress on the psychology of adolescence. For the dreamer in all of us, Meena’s Dream is a dream worth having.
Running Time: 90 minutes without intermission.
Advisory: Family Friendly
Meena’s Dream plays at Forum Theatre, 8641 Colesville Road, MD, through January 18. For tickets click here. At the door, tickets are pay-what-you-can, or as I like to say: pay-what-you-should.