Geoff Sobelle knows where you dream. Even more unsettlingly, he knows that territory you inhabit on the edge of dreams when you re suddenly half-awake in the middle of the night and aren t sure where you are.
You re home, right? Or so you try to reassure yourself, as you squint to make out familiar objects in the dark. But which of the many homes and way stations you ve slept in is this one?
Before your real location has come into focus, you ve taken mental inventory of a whole succession of beds, occupied by different versions of you, at different ages, perhaps in combination with different partners.
Yeah, I know, Proust wrote all about this stuff in the opening pages of Remembrance of Things Past. ( For a long time I used to go to bed early, it begins.) But don t think I ve ever seen this particular form of nocturnal disorientation summoned as evocatively on a stage, in real (unreal) time as it is in Home, Mr. Sobelle s essential new performance piece at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
If you have any intention of seeing Home, which runs only through Sunday at the Harvey Theater, you might want to stop reading now. Part of the effectiveness of this latest offering from Mr. Sobelle, whose earlier credits include the inspired installation work The Object Lesson, relies on conjuring tricks.
This production, directed with a spontaneous air of seamlessness by Lee Sunday Evans, seems to keep pulling apparitions out of air, just as your mind does when it s feeling tired and unguarded. That semi-waking sensation I mentioned above is given full, fluid life early in the show, and it involves little more than a simple single bed, the middle-aged Mr. Sobelle and interchangeable alter-egos who include a towheaded boy, a young woman and an older woman.
The entire sequence lasts maybe five minutes, and yet it feels as if it covers not just your lifetime but those of at least several other people as well. And, oh, you know that other unnerving staple of nighttime fantasies, the one in which you re in a public place in your underwear?
Mr. Sobelle has that one covered (or uncovered), too, as he stands center stage in his white boxers and T-shirt, modestly draping himself in sheer plastic tarpaulins, looking both slightly alarmed and supremely regal. Watching him in such moments, you are sure to feel an embarrassed empathy for Mr. Sobelle, awash in your own instinctive fears of being on undignified and unprotected display.
Not to worry, though. Mr. Sobelle will soon have an entire house custom built, room by room, before your astonished eyes to shelter him. But how much of a sanctuary is a house, any house, finally?
Looked at from a longer view, which is how Mr. Sobelle s vision works, it s just a temporary refuge through which many travelers are probably destined to pass. As to any illusions you might have about the permanence of where you lay your hat, well, just remember that anything that can be assembled can be leveled even more quickly.
I wasn t speaking in metaphors about that house being built onstage. At the center of Steven Dufala s uncanny set for Home is a two-story suburban-style dwelling (with complete kitchen and bathroom). Even though you watch it being put together, it still seems to materialize of the shadows, just like the place you once lived with Mom and Dad, as it shows up in your dreams.
Don t make the mistake of thinking that this house is private property. This building belongs if not to the ages, at least to several successive generations of tenants.
These folks go about their daily business of brushing their teeth, taking out the garbage, unclogging the toilet, changing clothes and putting away the groceries, just as you or I might on an average, boring day. But they do it in multiples, so that as many as seven people are inhabiting the house at the same time, performing much the same tasks, but unaware of one another s existence.
And that s before things get really crowded.
Home admits to a cast of only seven, including Mr. Sobelle. That is a deceptive number. You are a cast member, too, whether you wind up on the stage or not. (And be warned: that is a possibility, but nothing that involves you in your underwear.)
A highly skilled creative team, which includes Christopher Kuhl (lighting) and Brandon Wolcott (sound), extends the borders of this work s title property through subliminal sensory effects. After all, as Mr. Sobelle points out in a written introduction in the program, there s a reason that theaters are referred to as houses; they are places where we settle in for a spell, as occupants and owners of seats we presumptuously think of as ours.
If you are not the first person ever to live where you are living now, Home is guaranteed to elicit a familiar sense of being haunted. Surely on some level, conscious or not, you ve thought about the existences that preceded yours in this spot, and felt both their weight and their ephemerality.
Those who like anchors of annotation with their artistic experiences will be pleased to learn that this production features a alto-harp and guitar-strumming troubadour in the form of Elvis Perkins, who shows up to sing gnomically of the follies of identifying too closely with our places of residence.
Mr. Perkins has a certain droll charm. But for me, his presence was superfluous. Mr. Sobelle and company have landscaped their ghost house so precisely as an of-the-moment phenomenon that no explanation is required.
And as I looked at the (spoiler) ruins of what was once a sturdy edifice as the show concluded, I cast a prophetic thought toward them, one I knew would be fulfilled: I ll see you in my dreams.