A scene from NIGHTMARES: a demonstration of the Sublime
Description: This play situates itself between terror and comedy (the sublime), beneath the gaze of Henry Fuseli's iconic painting, and in the midst of an enveloping soundscape to plumb the extremities of our contemporary condition and posit the question: are we still capable of being overwhelmed?
First Produced: 2013
Date Added: 1/10/2013
Content Advisory: Strong language, violence, nudity.
Requires/Supports Sophisticated Multimedia/Technical Elements ·
Characters are Mostly Young Adults ·
Literature and Writing ·
Large Cast Size
1 Act, 75 Minutes
4 Females, 4 Males
NIGHTMARES: a demonstration of the Sublime is fully protected by copyright law and is subject to royalty. All inquiries concerning production, publication, reprinting or use of this play in any form should be addressed to email@example.com.
From the Author:
This play has been in development, in one way or another, for over five years. The majority of those years the piece sat and stared at itself. The amount of time I have spent with this piece is so consuming that the task of contextualizing it feels ever-so-burdensome.
So, I'll make this brief.
In 2006 I was studying abroad in London and visiting museums everyday, unexpectedly becoming a student of art and carnivorously reaching for an undirected, unaccredited degree in art history. This is how I discovered Henry Fuseli, his writings and the painting itself, "The Nightmare." I became obsessed with the thread that initiated the play: can a person be so influenced by an art that is possesses them to perform against their better judgment?
This question, after many years, was further investigated and rephrased: can a person be so influenced by the speed of exponentials surrounding them that they are disabled against their will? This became Buran Theatre’s motive in returning to NIGHTMARES after our inaugural version produced in 2008.
A trip down memory lane: I wrote the first draft of NIGHTMARES in 2007 at LaMaMa's writer retreat in Spoleto, Italy. Lisa Kron was the writer-in-residence and something she said that week has stuck with me—and with this script in particular—and that was, "Characters are ignorant of narrative." The follow up to that, which I'm not sure if she said or if I inferred, was, "And so should you." It was one of those light bulb moments and I haven't written the same since.
I attempt to remain in the dark as to the motive of the piece until an audience arrives. And I insist on this frustrating mode of working, of never knowing, and it is particularly frustrating for actors: it’s why rehearsing for longer than a week can be a waste of time, because I’ll never have my mind made up completely.
The hope is that with each community Buran Theatre travels to perform it with, that the piece will change and shape to fit the concerns of the individuals we collaborate with. In this way we ensure that the work is never finished and the script remains a constant work in process and a reflection of our limitations.
If nothing else, I know the process of remaining ignorant is incredibly humbling and rewarding.
So, please, take this play and be ignorant with it.
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Original Production Information
NIGHTMARES: a demonstration of the Sublime was first presented on January 2, 2013 at the Brick Theater, New York City, with the following cast and credits:
JUD/FRANKENSTEIN’S MONSTER: Jud Knudsen
SUBLIMIST: Adam Burnett
PARTNER/CAITLIN: Caitlin Bebb
MAIDEN: Lara Thomas Ducey
CLARE CLAREMONT/CATRIN: Catrin Lloyd-Bollard
HUB-BUBBER/JON POLIDORI: Marlowe Holden
MARY SHELLEY/ARLA: Arla Berman
LORDBYRON/CURRY: Curry Whitmire
PERCY BYSSHE SHELLEY/VAMPYRE/BRADY: Brady Blevins
GERALDO: Geraldo Mercado
LUXEM: CS Luxem
Directed by Theresa Buchheister, Adam R. Burnett, & Jud Knudsen
Technical director & scenic design by Nick Kostner
Music by CS Luxem & Catrin Lloyd-Bollard
Media design by Geraldo Mercado
Lighting design by Ann Sitzman
Costume design by Nikolas Weir
Choreography by Theresa Buchheister & Marlowe Holden
In the 19th century,
as photography became widespread and popular, some people wondered whether our ability to forever
"have" an exact representation of any object might compromise our ability to
create subjective art about the same object. Today, as technology empowers us to
record EVERYTHING in our lives and enshrine it on Facebook or share it via
Twitter, the question of our relationship with what's "real" and "natural" on
the one hand and with images of reality on the other becomes more and more
Here's another conundrum: not so long ago, it used to be really
difficult and/or expensive to copy the work of others: you had to write stuff
out longhand or type it on a typewriter if you intended to commit an act of
literary plagiarism; only those with high-tech, state-of-the-art equipment could
duplicate a recording of music or a film. Not so today, as again technology
facilitates, possibly even encourages one-click reproduction that in
another era might have been called stealing. We live in a world of sampling and
mashups, of reposting and retweeting appropriated material, of the most mundane
depiction of reality going viral while more fragile artworks languish virtually
unknown and unseen.
All of this heavy thinking comes after viewing NIGHTMARES: a demonstration
of the Sublime, the newest piece by
Buran Theatre. This is the
second Buran show I've seen (the first was
The House of Fitzcarraldo,
last March, also at the Brick in Williamsburg); like that earlier one,
NIGHTMARES is chaotic, anarchic, and fully demanding of its audience's
engagement. It is also enormously fun, and funny; with a serious—profound,
even—sense of purpose and vision that creeps up on you slowly and then jolts you
to attention with its sudden immediacy and clarity. It doesn't mean anything to
say, on January 3, that this is the best show I've seen all year. But
NIGHTMARES is a spectacularly smart and involving way to begin your 2013
theater viewing. Would that everything we see over the next 12 months feels this
So what, you are asking, happens in this show? Well, it's not all that easy
to describe. The blurb at the top of the program talks about
painting by Henry Fuseli that gives the show its title, and about the
infamous summer when Mary Shelley, her husband, their friend Lord Byron, and two
others had a contest to come up with the spookiest story—out of which, it is
said, Shelley's Frankenstein was born. All of these personages are listed
as characters in the program, along with Franksenstein's Monster and The Vampyre
(an allusion to Percy Shelley's creation).
But NIGHTMARES cannot be said to be about any of the foregoing,
though it all figures into it. Playwright Adam R. Burnett and his creative
collaborators Theresa Buchheister, Marlowe Holden, Jud Knudsen, Nick Kostner,
Catrin Lloyd-Bollard, CS Luxem, Geraldo Mercado, and Ann Sitzman juxtapose
vignettes featuring the aforementioned 19th century poets and writers with
others involving highly recognizable ordinary Americans of today; these are
surrounded by a story of a youg man whose blog post about philosophical theories
of the Sublime has gained him some modest fame; and this in turn is surrounded
by our own immediate experience with Knudsen as himself, or a version of
himself, breaking the fourth wall to have a dialog with us that is destined to
be one-sided despite his efforts to have it not be. The show contains funny
scenes and startling surprises; there are wondrously animated projections of
some of the paintings discussed by these characters and a truly mind-blowing
animated short film (for want of a better way to describe it) that I thought was
based on sonogram-esque views of the human circulatory system but my companion
thought was about the game of "Telephone" that is Twitter, filled with
almost-accurate, not-quite-synchronized repetitions of themes.
It's an experience that the thoughtful student of contemporary American
theater ought to undertake. Burnett's writing reminds me of Eric Bland's in its
razor-sharp ability to capture the zeitgeist, a questing generation searching
for connection and meaning in the miasma of the social network. The text dazzles
as it considers our imprecision and our faulty memories: how we muddle and mix
up words and attributions, and what that does to clear thinking. The direction,
by Burnett, Buchheister, and Knudsen, manages the illusion of anarchy without
feeling out of control. Kostner's set is unexpectedly lovely. The actors—in
addition to Burnett and Knudsen, they include Caitlin Bebb, Arla Berman, Brady
Blevins, Marlowe Holden, Catrin Lloyd-Bollard, Lara Thomas Ducey, and Curry
Whitmire—are impeccable. As our Emcee/Guide, Knudsen is first among equals in a
role that really showcases his prodigious talent and versatility.
I love that I left NIGHTMARES with so many notions about the way we
live today popping around in my head. So much of what passes for communication
these days is tweet-sized, easily and passively consumed. We need art like this
to maintain our humanity. Thank you Buran and thank you Brick for being keepers
of this precious flame.
review of the original production in 2013
Reviewed by Max Cosmo Cramer in Culture Bytes (2013)
January 8, 2013
Buran Theater’s “Nightmares” at The Brick
credit: Nick Kostner
credit: Nick Kostner
What happens to “the sublime” of European Romanticism after the death of the author and the birth of tumblr? Can you “share” it? Can you “like” it? And can you stage it?
Read the review.
Reviewed by Mitch Montgomery in Backstage (2013)
With its surreal interludes, flickering projections of Henry Fuseli’s paintings, and sudden, unexplained nudity, Buran Theatre’s “Nightmares: a demonstration of the Sublime” makes for an intriguing sensory echo chamber, in which dozens of seemingly incongruous ideas about authorship and man’s relation to the sublime ricochet off the walls of the Brick at light speed.
Read the review.
Reviewed by Tabitha Vidaurri in Brooklyn Exposed (2013)
The Brick and Buran Theatre Company describe their latest performance, NIGHTMARES: a demonstration of the Sublime, as a theater work, rather than a play.
Read the review.
NIGHTMARES: a demonstration of the Sublime
I don’t like it.
I like it. I would denote it as like, the crux. Right? The crux?
The crux that brings the room together. I always assumed it was the chez.
Shea? Cheez? Chez lounge?
I don’t – know – about that. But no, we’ll keep it here for a while and then—move it.
Are we touring the painting?
I dunno, to the bedroom?
In the bed-room? No, no, no, no. Put it in your mother’s basement.
Put it in YOUR mother’s basement. (laughs) No no no, my mother? Not my mother. Maybe your mother.
Maybe the chez lounge.
Your mom would take the chez lounge?
Nothing is happening to the chez lounge. (beat) Are you pleased?
Does it please you to have it on the wall?
I am happy.
Are you happy?
I’m happy. I don’t like it.
I like it.
I mean, all the work, I did - hey, do we have any of that puhjunko? Puhjunko?
And that meat – the thin—meat.
You ate all of it.
I did? The meat?
The meat is called prosciutto. The bruschetta is the bread. And you ate all of it.
It’s the bruschetta I want.
You ate it all. Last night.
Yes. I watched you devour it. One after the other.
Not me, I didn’t do that.
It was incredibly medical – how you ate them. One after the other. I’m surprised you didn’t feel it later.
I have no recollection. Of my eating. And I always think the meat is called bruschetta. And the bread is called prosciutto.
No no. That’s not real. We have prosciutto. Do you want that then?
No. I want bruschetta.
There’s no bruschetta. The bruschetta is gone.
Are you sure?
Yes. (beat) You know, it makes me feel like we’re living in a museum.
The Nightmare. It makes me feel like I’m living in a - -
That’s wrong! It doesn’t – no – it totally doesn’t indicate museum. It indicates – what? I’m telling you ever since I saw it, it was in display and I can’t even remember—
–in London, where, the place, and I know it wasn’t the National Gallery.
Or the Tate. I know
No, I know, well, I mean, you know, that’s the thing, it could have been. It may well could have – you know, it shook the life out of me. Couldn’t sleep for nights. It was…very affecting– but it’s all in this painting, the entire motive behind everything. Got me into art, which got me into talking about it, and I just, haven’t felt that way since. First and last time. Always wondered if I could feel that way towards an object or even…a subject…again.
It’s a good story. It’s always more impressive when you’re telling it to someone for the first time. You rush through it with me because you know I’ve heard it so – many – times.
Why would you say that to me?
Jesus Christ. I would never –I would never have been with a person – told them I’d be with them, with you, or anyone—you know, like, commit to relationship, or whatever, not even like that, but, you know– if I knew they were going to have to endure my four stories. Because that’s all I’ve got. I can do them right now. I’m not very – deep. My reservoir.
Uh-huh. How boring things get, right? Right?
Am I right?
Is that what you meant?
Is that what you mean?
How boring it gets? That’s what you were saying. Or what you were ALLUDING TO.
Is that you mean?
Is that was you meant?
Did you get that puhjunko?
There is no bruschetta.
An opera descends.