BWW Reviews: MEENA'S DREAM at Forum Theatre - A Journey Worth Taking
When Anu Yadav takes her bow at the end of Meena's Dream the audience is left to do a double-take. For the last 80 minutes Yadav has transformed herself into more than half a dozen characters. Each with a personality that is so distinct, so rich, that when finally reminded at the curtain call that all these characters were played by Yadav herself we're left to sit there in amazement. Meena's Dream is more than just a marvelous play; it is a heartfelt fable which reminds us about the power of dreams.
There's a lot to love about Meena's Dream at Forum Theatre and that starts with the show's writer and star Anu Yadav. Meena is a nine year-old girl with an active imagination. Fearing for the health of her sick mother and peer pressure at school from fellow classmates, Meena's dreams first act as a shelter from these problems only to morph into a guide for how she can overcome these challenges. Meena's Dream was heavily influenced by Yadav's own childhood growing up in Iowa where she was raised Hindu, lost her father at a young age and family had to rely on social security. Yadav used her imagination to escape these issues and we see that reflected in Meena.
Quite simply, Yadav is incredible! With a simple twist of her arm, raise of a brow, bending of the knees or tilt of her head, she transforms herself before us into a litany of characters. Even more astounding is the personality she infuses into each character allowing us to see the vividness of Meena's imagination. What's even more amazing is that these characters range from everyday people such as a pharmacist or the playground bully to mythical creatures such as Lord Krishna, the Hindu God which guides Meena in her dreams.
Informing these characters is Yadav's script which perfectly captures the innocence and insightfulness of childhood. Meena's too young to understand her mother's illness or why she insists on cutting her medication in half to make it last longer, and yet she's mature enough to understand that something is wrong. We see this manifested through the Worry Machine, Meena's imaginative and fictitious enemy. This character doesn't taunt Meena with specifics about her mother's sickness, only the fear of what would happen should she suddenly stop breathing - a situation Meena has encountered before.
Informing Meena's world is John Bowher's set design which accurately captures the opposing traits of dreams, their elusive and factual nature. Situated center stage is Meena's bedroom, complete with stuffed animals, books and pink sheets. However, surrounding Meena's room is a school desk, brown and white linens of various shapes hung above the stage as if to be random thoughts and a blank wall several feet behind the bed. By strategically placing these set pieces around the stage Bowher's design gives us insight into the wondering nature of Meena's dreams and anxieties.
Director Patrick Crowley has made full use of Bowher's set by encouraging Yadav to be bold in her movements; using every inch of the stage to make these characters come alive. Like most dreams, he has Yadav start in Meena's bedroom only to have her branch out of its borders into the more abstract parts of the set and her mind. It's here where Meena starts to really explore her dreams and where Crowley has encouraged Yadav to become more energetic and playful.
Sarah Tundermann's expressive lighting design colors Meena's dreams and enhances the characters that inhabit them. For example, to portray the mythical Money Tree, Tundermann uses a side spotlight to project a profile of Yadav against the wall. Suddenly were faced with Yadav's shadow which, by doubling her size, emotionally heightens the fear Meena feels upon their encounter.
It would seem only fitting that in much the same way dreams transforms our lives, that Meena's Dream be transformed into something more than just a play but a journey. This is done through music written and performed by Anja and Rajna Swaminathan and Sam McCormmally, who sit along the stage and accompany Yadav's Meena throughout the evening. Their music has an almost cinematic essence about it and makes the audience feel that instead of watching a performance they are accompanying Meena along her path to learning one of life's great lessons. McCormmally and the Swaminathans' performances were an unexpected pleasure, and one that further makes Meena's Dream worth seeing.
There are numerous potential pitfalls for one-person shows. They range from lackluster storytelling, dull plots, emotionless acting to poor production values. Meena's Dream suffers from none of these. Furthermore its message about dreaming is one that seems appropriate to be reminded of as we enter a new year.