'Deathscape': New Play Is Surreal Dreamscape Of Religious Themes

A character named Me -- who incidentally has been bitten by a rabid bat and is on his way, Wizard of Oz-like, to find an elixir -- is walking in the mountains when he runs into bin Laden.

Speaking in what the stage directions call for as "a deep, gentle voice, kind of like the dragon in The Never Ending Story," bin Laden launches into a long monologue directed at Me.

"I'm coming. Move out of the way. Move out of my way. I have six fingers on my right hand. I have a knife in my back pocket. Do you have your gas mask with you?" says bin Laden's beard, which just so happens to be a shadow puppet. "I have chemical weapons. I have biological warheads. I'm Cinderella. I'm a red red apple. Look at my face, it's full of sky. Look at my face, I'm Vanna White."

If you're confused, that's the point. Misha Shulman's play, "Deathscape," which just completed a run at the Theater for the New City in New York, is based on a dream sequence worthy of Dali.

In the course of the play, Me crosses paths with not only bin Laden's beard -- which at one point starts singing Jewish prayers -- but also Freud, Rosa Parks, a blind monk, a lewd turtle, Medea, Marilyn Monroe and the Dalai Lama, who uncharacteristically bears a Kalashnikov rifle and identifies as a "Jewish Canadian."

It's worth mentioning that the turtle, whose name is Norman and who used to be Me's pet, propositions him. "Try and penetrate it, you'll see. There's a whole world in there. Wider than outer space. A black hole. Everything you've ever dreamed of is in there," Norman says in one of his less graphic statements. "Everything you ever imagined, two bedroom, three bedroom, duplex, villa, a mansion in the hills of Tuscany."

And several lines later, "You can tape the whole thing and put it on YouTube." Me turns down the turtle's propositions, but the absurdity of the encounter isn't quickly forgotten.

Another thread throughout the play -- though it's not such a blunt or loud theme -- is the Jewish references. Not only does bin Laden's beard pray in Hebrew and the Dalai Lama identify as Jewish, but the stage directions call for a scene to transpire "like in Jacob's dream from the Book of Genesis."

That's enough for the New York Jewish Week's Ted Merwin to connect the play -- and prior Shulman performances -- with the playwright's hometown of Jerusalem and his service in the Israeli army, as well as the "Talmudic dictum that dreams are one-sixtieth of prophecies."

Merwin's review is well worth a read, but the Jewish angle might be slightly overstated. Shulman's plays are worth a close look for the risks they take and their excellent dialogues. "Desert Sunrise" (more on the play here), which focused on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, was perhaps more connected to Shulman's Israeli upbringing.

In many senses "Deathscape" felt more raw than "Desert Sunrise," but in that rawness, Shulman tackled the complicated realm of dreams, and I think he left viewers with far more in the way of interesting questions and themes to ponder than he did cliches.