Butler ArtsFest: Once Upon a Dream 

***1/2
click to enlarge Deborah Asante
  • Deborah Asante

Do dreams fuel transformative powers? Storyteller Deborah Asante's artistry with visualizing words makes us believe. We are in Asante's thrall as she spins the sad tale of a woman whose less-than-smart choices propel her into a life of solitude until dreams, spun out before our eyes by aerialist Tavi Stutz, empower her to move from depression to empowerment.

The ending is the happily-ever-after we long for, but the beginning rightfully signals a challenge, and the middle on the other hand is definitely un-pretty. The tribulations of Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella seem tame in comparison.

Asante, whose children's theater troupes are known for tackling hard-hitting social and cultural issues, carries this mantra even further with her adult materials. Oh, she knows when to lighten the tension with a touch of ironic wit, but our foibles are held up in clear light and our pretenses can't hide in shadows.

As with her now iconic blueswoman Suki Lue Ambers, Asante's anti-heroine has a hard time coping until she remembers her Mamma's blunt question: "How come it's only boys who slay dragons in our stories."

The power of suggestion and dreams play out as Stutz is subverted in his attempt to cross a river and scale a mountain. It's not until the third dream - three's magical as you know - that Stutz's writhing scaly-ness gives way to, oh yes, redemption through love.

Percussionists Joe Crabiel and Jordy Long round out the program, matching, first the slow, steady plodding through living without enjoying a life, and then the accelerated heartbeat of the alienated self flying through space. The unnamed lighting designer and crew equally earn praise.

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