Big Dreams

Features: February 2010 – Valentine’s Day is nearly upon us: the season of love and kisses, of hearts and flowers, of infinite romantic possibility, right?

“Let’s face it,” says Angie Toomsen of Dreamwell Theater. “It’s a totally lame holiday that glosses over the true complexity of human relationships and makes people feel like crap if they’re single or heartbroken.”

Okay, so Hearts and Flowers she ain’t. But why let one cynical outlook spoil an otherwise idyllic holiday?

“Valentine’s Day is a sappy and thoroughly commercial holiday, utterly without merit,” adds Dreamwell’s Josh Sazon. “Love is not cutesy, love is not sweet and happy and wonderful. For the most part, it really is an absolutely wretched condition to be in, where pain and insecurity and miscommunication and petty jealousy is the order of the day.”

Okay, then.

Think of it this way: Remember back to your first junior high romance. Those mortifyingly earnest notes slipped through locker vents between classes, the paralytically stiff slow dancing in the gym during school dances. It was pretty wretched, wasn’t it? It only makes sense then, as Dreamwell enters into its 12th year of theater in Iowa City, that it kicks off the season with a show about love that squirms with the fear and loathing of everyone’s adolescent romantic experience.

That show is Down With Love: an Anti-Valentine’s Day Valentine’s Cabaret, an evening of music spanning decades and genres, and dedicated, according to their website, to showing “what a completely annoying little jerk the devilish Cupid can be.” Directed by Sazon and produced by Toomsen and Dreamwell Theater, the show will feature actors from Dreamwell and many other area companies, including Toomsen herself. The show plays for one night only: Sunday, February 14th at the Mill Restaurant starting at 7:30 p.m.

That’s right: Valentine’s Day.

And don’t expect Dreamwell’s tween rebellion to stop there. Co-founder and past Board President Matt Falduto predicts a season that will both entertain audiences and challenge their assumptions about theater.

“We call the season A Taboo Bijou, as every show tackles a taboo subject,” he explains, almost giddy with the possibility. Taboo theater in Iowa? you ask, chuckling as you ruffle the hair of this audaciousness 12-year-old upstart theater company. Isn’t that cute? How edgy can it really be?

Be warned: This is not the idle threat of a junior high hooligan. The very next show on Dreamwell’s calendar promises to be a flaming bag of dog mess left on the doorstep of conservative and mundane theater traditions, and they’ve invited the audience to be in on the prank.

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Poona the Fuckdog [by University of Iowa grad Jeff Goode] hilariously skewers everything from language to sex to terrorism to religion to sex again,” Falduto explains. “There’s a giant singing penis, for God’s sake.” Though the show is subtitled “(and other plays for children),” Falduto warns that this show is definitely not for children, not even the most precocious 12-year-old, nor for the faint of heart. But for the rest of us, hidden in the bushes as Dreamwell strikes the match and rings the doorbell, he promises it will be impossible not to laugh out loud.

In March, Dreamwell will produce Blackbird, the story of a woman who confronts the man who had been her lover when she was only a child as he leaves prison. Then, in the summer, Dreamwell will stage 9 Parts of Desire, a play about the women of Iraq and how they deal with love and pain in a time of war and change. The season mixes the satirical with the serious, the sacred with the profane, in the spirit of every young punk.

As they look to the future, the teen years looming ahead, Falduto and crew dream the dream that every teenager has nurtured since the dawn of time: They want to move out of their parent’s basement and get a place of their own.

“We have one major goal and that’s a new home,” explains Falduto. “We’ve been doing shows [on the basement stage] at Unitarian Universalist since the beginning and we’ve ventured to other locations in the past decade, but we really want a permanent home to call our own.”

The company will be saving their allowance, and any tax-deductible contributions audience members and lovers of the theater care to make, through 2010 in the hopes of setting up their own space in 2011.

But that is some time off, and for now, Dreamwell is all about getting Down With Love.

“Despite the title, we think this will actually be a fun night for singles and lovebirds alike,” explains Angie Toomsen. “You can come enjoy the Mill’s food and drinks and have some fun, quality entertainment. You don’t have to hate Valentine’s Day to have a great time.”

But it might help, right?

“The painful aspects of love sometimes seem easier to stomach that the syrupy sweet stuff,” she explains, but is quick to add, “Just to be clear, if my boyfriend forgets Valentine’s Day this year, he’s dead.”