Derek Walcott, the 1992 Nobel Prize Laureate, has written many poetic plays that rarely appear on American stages. One deterrent may be the West Indian dialect needed to perform the plays with authenticity. The Classical Theatre of Harlem has revived the famous 1970 drama, "Dream on Monkey Mountain," and has met the challenge of the multimedia production that includes live music, dance, choral singing, and movement.
As Makak, Andre De Shields has taken on a role as difficult as King Lear: an old man who imagines himself the savior of his people who is accepted, then betrayed, and finally finds that he has awoken from a dream. Shields is on stage continually in Alfred Preisser's epic production, including during the intermission. Shields' intensity and conviction keep the play's dream sequences, realistic moments, and historical recreations together.
Troy Hourie has left the set, which must provide many locales on a West Indian island, as open as a dance space, although his rear scrim when lighted by Aaron Black becomes a symbolic landscape of mystery and imagination. Most impressive is Bruce Heath's choreography for both villagers and fantasy figures. William "Spaceman" Patterson's musical direction not only adds to the atmosphere and drama, it advances the story. The West Indian dialect coached by Chantal Jean-Pierre may be heavy going for those unaccustomed to it, but it sounds entirely authentic to the untrained ear.
Most of the cast of 14 play multiple roles or appear as part of the ensemble. Notable among the actors are Kim Sullivan, playing Sancho Panza to De Shields' Don Quixote; Benton Greene as the angry Tigre; Arthur James Solomon as Basil the Carpenter, here a symbol of death; and Michael Early, who as Corporal Lestrade seems to be Walcott's attack on British colonialism. Dele as the silent apparition in white has a haunting presence.