There’s a tiny world underneath Will’s bed, full of memories, scattered notes and trinkets from his adventures. He’s a recent transplant to Los Angeles, here to open a bar, named the Bar of Dreams, with his best friend Connie, and chasing this real-life dream hasn’t gone as well as he expected. In his notes, I see a happy, optimistic young man start to grapple with the struggles of being in a city like this one. I see that he’s begun to retreat further and further into his subconscious — the proverbial Bar of Dreams — to escape from the harshness of reality.
Contrary to the description so far, Bar of Dreams, the production from improv whizzes Jon Pedigo and Alex Leff, is a stellar comedy. It’s a strikingly poignant one, at that, despite how deeply, wonderfully silly it is at its core. A little dose of unreality, as it has clearly benefitted Will before now, can benefit anyone in moderation, and Bar of Dreams — this hilarious trip through Will’s subconscious — is exactly the surrealist romp that’s been needed to bring comedic immersive theatre to the forefront of the medium.
Bar of Dreams, as much as it relies on audiences to drive the dialogue, is a remarkably low-pressure affair from the outset. Guests are on-boarded to the experience in wild, but succinct fashion by Alex Leff as Connie, blonde wig and Top Gun glasses framing his broad smile as he talks excitedly about his best friend Will and the Bar of Dreams they plan to open. To sum up: Will’s developed a set of Dream Elixirs, boozy concoctions that get guests in touch with different aspects of their subconscious. It’s a great gimmick, but Will’s been struggling lately with his lack of instant success; he’s become hooked on his own supply to the point that he’s never really awake anymore. Connie wants us to pop into Will’s dreams and help him wake up, to face reality and accept that his setbacks are not dooming him to failure.
It’s a touching gesture from Connie, and a somewhat “meta” comment on immersive theatre as a whole; the idea of crafting a curated unreality as escapism for one’s own consciousness. Once the experience begins in earnest, and I find myself under Will’s bed, reading his thoughts, I may as well be in my own bedroom, tapping away at my computer, writing about immersive theatre, or purchasing tickets for my own next adventure. The production combines true absurdity with tiny cracks of reality throughout, as our small group (only four participants per show) enters one by one into Will’s dreams of heartache, fear, grief, and more; Will’s internal struggle is evident throughout, but it only serves to make the audience more eager to help him make it through.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Bar of Dreams is the simplicity of its execution. The set — a lived-in apartment — is perfect for the content and adapts in a pinch between different dream scenarios. Leff and Pedigo have the transitions between scenes down to a science; their design and attention to personal details for their participants make the production easy to mount and tailor for each unique group while appearing seamless to even the most observant guests.
Pedigo and Leff play Will and Connie, respectively, but they also take on every persona that lives inside Will’s head with ease and skill. Both performers come from an improv comedy background (most recently demonstrated in Shinbone Theatre Company’s Welcome Back, Woodchucks) and it shows in both their ability to transform into different characters and the care with which they treat their audience members. For participants who might be nervous to undertake an immersive experience that’s audience-driven in this way, please note: any guest at Bar of Dreams is more like an attendee at a well-loved house party than an on-stage volunteer at a comedy show. You will be well guided and well supported by a pair of excellent performers.
Bar of Dreams is a breath of fresh air, if that air carried the tinge of alcohol and movie theatre candy, of course. Did I mention there were drinks? It’s a bar, after all. Pedigo and Leff have been developing the Bar of Dreams concept for several years now, starting in Boston and expanding both in concept and location to their new home in Los Angeles, and it really shows. It’s an exploration of friendship, escapism, and a sly nod to the immersive theatre genre in general, all wrapped in a handsome, deeply funny package that begs for continued expansion. Cheers, boys. The next round’s on me.
Bar of Dreams is currently running on Fridays and Saturdays through May 2019 in Los Angeles, California. Tickets are $75 for an approximately two-hour show with multiple cocktails included. Purchase tickets HERE, or email firstname.lastname@example.org to inquire about booking a private group show beyond those dates. Please also sign up for the Bar of Dreams mailing list for info on extensions and future productions from the crew.
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