The Masks We Wear: Fred Curchack’s 'Stuff as Dreams Are Made On' Confronts, Amazes, and Consoles.
by Adrian Cook
On Saturday, January 18, Dallas Art Beat had the privilege to attend the limited run of Fred Curchack’s one-man performance Stuff as Dreams Are Made On. As this critic is quite familiar with both the source material (William Shakespeare’s The Tempest) and with Mr. Curchack’s work – well, I still wasn’t sure what I was in for, but I knew that it would surprise me. It did.
To say that Curchack’s performance is an adaptation of The Tempest is inaccurate. Instead, he plays with the text; he confronts it; he goofs on it. He interrupts it with editorial commentary. Ultimately, he uses the Bard’s play as a textual framework to reveal a human truth – we are all, each of us, our own Tempest, doomed to obscure our true self beneath countless masks. It is a truth that is only accentuated the deeper we plunge into the Media Age, so it is appropriate that Curchack would choose to revive the show more than three decades after its initial run. Despite its deep relevance in the age of the deep fake,
info-tainment, and social media, the performance is purely, even crudely analog.
Curchack employs many masks…and a creepy Victorian-looking doll…and a doll face worn over his own human face…oh, and even a lamp to embody Shakespeare’s characters. He speaks through each, modulating his voice, but never hiding the fact that the voice is his. His performance is bold, audacious, and about as low-tech as they come. Curchack is alone on stage, reframing the island of Shakespeare’s play to become the I Land into which the audience, baring intimate witness in the small underground black box of Theatre Too, are invited. This “I Land” is absurd in every sense. It is playful, self-aware, and self-critical.
The performance (which is a more accurate descriptor than to call this a play) is as layered and complex as the human animal, vacillating between virtuosic delivery of Shakespearian verse, fart jokes, Caliban’s spoken sub-text (the monstrously masked persona calls Prospero an “imperialist MF-er”), philosophical diatribes, and the grotesquely stereotyped Italian accent of a (literally) doll-faced Ferdinand. Astoundingly, it is the doll-as-Miranda that becomes the dominant character, and the conscience of Stuff as Dreams Are Made On. She stares at the audience with dead eyes, sitting there, tattered, abused, and broken by the text, by history, by Ferdinand, Caliban, and Prospero…by Curchack himself, even as the performer speaks to himself through her. It is…uncomfortable. And that is the point.
The audience is often confronted by the performance. There is a constant play of light, shadow, and full-on darkness in Dreams. The segue into the show’s final movement had one member of the audience unabashedly crying out for light!
But if you choose to visit Curchack’s I Land – which you should -- you will also be amazed, delighted, and moved. In the first of many meta-theatrical interruptions, Curchack summarizes The Tempest, describing Prospero’s magic is the magic of illusion. It is soon apparent that Curchack himself possesses such power. The visual spectacle he creates using nothing more than hand-held flashlights, two static bulbs, a frayed sheet and his body is nothing short of magical. It is an additional, and most pleasing layer of the performance that solicited gasps of delight from his audience. It is something that must be seen to be believed.
You should see this performance. You should see it to remember, to bear witness to, to experience the power of live theatrical performance. In 2020, the bulk of our dramatic storytelling is carried by film and television. Film is a sophisticated medium capable of making even the fantastic seem viable and realistic. Curchack’s performance makes the realistic magical, strange, and new. Film can tell a story. Stuff as Dreams Are Made On demonstrates what live theatre can communicate. In the end, the seeming indecisiveness of its form, the kaleidoscopic and mercurial tension between delight and discomfort that can only be experienced by sharing space with the performer are the things that drive home the thesis of the show. When the masks and doll faces are plied off and the performer stands, vulnerable, speaking 400-year-old words as if they are his own, I was moved to reflect on my own masks, my own inexplicable contradictions. I felt seen…and un-alone.
Stuff as Dreams Are Made On, written and directed by Fred Curchack, is a limited engagement at Theatre Three, 2800 Routh St. #168, Dallas, TX 75201. Catch the final two performances, Fri. January 24 and Sat., Jan 25 at 8:00 PM.
For tickets visit https://www.theatre3dallas.com/shows-tickets/ or call the Box Office at
(214) 871-3300. Please note, audiences should be aware that this performance contains mature language and sexual references.
Adrian Cook, Ph.D. is an artist/scholar specializing in film, literature, and the performing arts. He holds a Master’s degree in English from the University of Central Oklahoma and a doctorate in the humanities from The University of Texas at Dallas.
As an artist, Dr. Cook has worked as a stunt performer, a writer, a theatre artist (in many capacities), and as a percussionist. In fact, he can often be seen professionally “hitting things” with DFW-based bands Shotgun Friday and The Bodarks. As a scholar, he has presented his work – which explores the power of performance and storytelling, the hero’s/heroine’s journey, and the rise of the American anti-hero – across the United States, in Canada, and in the UK.
Dr. Cook currently teaches humanities at Tarrant County College in Fort Worth, TX and enjoys growing with his family, playing music, mentoring students, and endlessly observing and theorizing about the patterns of human behavior that bind us together. Current creative projects include a non-fiction book about humanity in the Digital Era, writing speculative flash fiction, and recording musical tracks. Dr. Cook is thrilled to contribute to Dallas Art Beat and the mission of examining and supporting our city’s vibrant creators.