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Theater Season Opens with Thomas Cole, A Waking Dream

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October 18, 2002

Theater Season Opens with Thomas Cole, A Waking Dream

View from Mt. Holyoke, Northampton, Massachusetts, after a Thunderstorm (The Oxbow) by Thomas Cole, which is currently on view at the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum.

Thomas Cole, A Waking Dream cast members offer a preview of the production's spectacular costumes, which were designed by MHC's Vanessa James. The play opens October 24 in Rooke Theatre.

The canvases of Thomas Cole are prized for the sense of heightened reality they convey—full of luminescent colors set off by malevolent shadows, and telling stories, at times, that grandly illuminate nineteenth-century thinking. These same themes—"heightened reality" and a dramatic plunge into the nineteenth century—are exactly what theatergoers can expect at the MHC theatre arts department's 2002–2003 season opener, Thomas Cole, A Waking Dream. This multimedia production, written and directed by Donald T. Sanders, tells the story, in verse, of Cole's life, work, and world. The play features period costumes made of multihued plastic and a fifteen-member cast composed of MHC faculty and students, members of the local community, and Five College students. A Waking Dream opens October 24 in Rooke Theatre.

A Waking Dream is part of a series of events addressing the theme of Destinations: New Meanings of Travel sponsored by the Weissman Center for Leadership. Also part of the series is the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum's current exhibition Changing Prospects: The View from Mount Holyoke, which features one of Thomas Cole's most famous paintings, View from Mt. Holyoke, Northampton, Massachusetts, after a Thunderstorm (The Oxbow), on loan from New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Known around the Pioneer Valley as the mastermind behind the Massachusetts International Festival of the Arts (MIFA), Sanders has brought dozens of world-class performances to valley stages. With A Waking Dream, which is part of this year's MIFA season, Sanders revisits a childhood reverence for Cole's paintings that inspired the playwright to develop the show when it was commissioned in 1985 by the Hudson River Museum in Yonkers, New York. The play was subsequently produced at Joseph Papp's Public Theatre in New York, where it played to critical acclaim: "A waking dream and a dream from which we are sorry to wake up," wrote John Russell in the New York Times.

Vanessa James, chair of the theatre arts department, created the sets and costumes for the original production and is happy to return to A Waking Dream. She explains how her designs blend with the multimedia effects to absorb the audience in Cole's world: "The proscenium is a gilded Victorian picture frame through which the audience sees, in perspective, another picture frame. One is in the museum, and one sees the painting on the wall, and one melts into the painting and sees Cole's life taking place amongst his paintings. Pictures within life within pictures within life!" James's period costumes complete the scene. "They're all made in plastics put together with tape and all sorts of crazy things." The lighting and multimedia effects contribute, says James, to the look of an oil painting.

Avant-garde jazz composer Henry Threadgill re-created for MHC's A Waking Dream the music that he first composed for the Public Theatre production. Threadgill has been called "one of the greatest musical masterminds of the past quarter century." Lighting is by Amae Kurre '03.

Performances of A Waking Dream take place October 24 through 26 at 8 pm and October 26 and 27 at 2 pm. Tickets prices are $5 general admission and $3 for students and senior citizens. Admission is free of charge on opening night for students with identification. Box office hours, beginning Monday, October 21, are from 3 to 6 pm daily and one hour prior to the performance. For reservations, call x2406.

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