Just when Shakespeare scholars thought they had seen it all; actor, writer, director and professor Fred Curchack created something new and strange in 1983 with his one-man show, Stuff As Dreams Are Made On, a deconstruction of The Tempest featuring Curchack performing with an array of masks and visual trickery.
The play debuted at Cinnabar Theatre in Petaluma, where the New York native was living; Curchack later toured the show internationally to great critical acclaim.
Now, 15 years since he last performed it, the 71-year-old Curchack is reviving Stuff As Dreams Are Made On for a small run that features a performance on Saturday, Jan. 4, at Studio 64 in San Rafael.
“I’ve been asked to revive this show for a conference of Shakespeare theater directors from all over the world, apparently,” Curchack says. “I decided to do a few local shows, and one in Dallas where I teach, to get it up to speed with real life audiences.”
This is not the first time Curchack’s been asked to perform for scholarly groups, and the play has been heralded by critics as an ambitious and audacious examination of Shakespeare and of art itself.
“It’s about an actor who tries to do a one-man-show using text from The Tempest, and he plays all the roles,” says Cuchack, who incorporates puppetry, ventriloquism and special effects into the show.
Beyond its academic value, Stuff As Dreams Are Made On is also a wildly imaginative, obscene, sometimes scary and often hilarious show that has been a hit with audiences for many years.
“I’m trying to make it very entertaining, very outrageous, very dirty,” Curchack says. “It’s not for kids.”
The balance between Shakespeare and outrageousness is the secret to the show’s success, and Curchack says Stuff As Dreams Are Made On resonates with people who can’t stand Shakespeare because it confronts the way that Shakespeare’s works are often presented in our contemporary culture.
“Often, the rich spirituality, psychology and existential insights that are Shakepseare’s contribution end up being analyzed merely as political insights,” says Curchack. “Of course, he was hugely political, there’s no question about that, but that’s not all he was doing.”
In reviving Stuff As Dreams Are Made On, Curchack finds new meaning in Shakespeare and his own work through the process of re-making the masks and special effects and adapting the physically-demanding show to his 71-year-old body.
“All this stuff is what I love theater for, it awakens interest in all sorts of things,” Cuchack says. “Most of all, re-learning the lines and reinvestigating what they really mean. Where do they touch my life on the deepest possible levels? There’s a whole host of things to think about, but it’s no longer in order to have a hit show, because it’s already been a hit show; now it’s in order to really work on myself in a way that’s fulfilling.”