Let us begin with the stage version - "The Dream Engine." Over a year in the making, the result of a combined effort by Barry Keating (director) and James Steinman (author), "The Dream Engine" opened this weekend at, of all places, Kirby Theatre. The irony is intentional and magnificent. There, before our bloodshot eyes, in the shade of elms, when the actors do their jobs well, hate pours forth from the stage in an ecstasy so depressing that the audience rises to its feet for ten-minute ovations.
As an image of America "The Dream Engine" may be an artistic exaggeration. But as a vision of hell, it is not. Nor is it a didactic lesson, in the manner of the Pageant Players, but rather, like all good art, an image. Revolution, in an effort to fight the "city" (Chicago, Watts, Saigon, Hiroshima), has bred a generation of limbs. Crawling, wet with sperm, alive with struggle, more and more "freaks" are beginning to redefine their lives not in terms of civilization but in terms of chaos. Horrible yes, but noble somehow.
"The Dream Engine" depicts a stage gone mad with wonder. The last buffalo in America is dying, and the Viet Cong are retaliating for a broken pact with the Indians. The play is not for revolution - that's too easy. It portrays revolution - and that's complicated. What is most important and impressive about the "The Dream Engine" is that it has guts. Artistically, Steinman and Keating have had the courage and stamina to present what they believe is an honest image to the Amherst community. And though the image is hardly pleasant, as a picture of what might happen, it is a masterpiece. "Your mutants are fighting back" - and they will.
Which brings us back to Amherst College.
Many people are presently concerned about the relationship between "The Dream Engine" and the current campus "revolution." Is there in this case any relationship between art and politics?
It would be a mistake, I think, to assume too close a relationship between the politics of the play and the politics of the campus. What we have in "The Dream Engine" is a revolutionary gesture that is, in our political terms, anarchistic. It stands for nothing aside from the drama, the personal drama, of the act itself.
Students are not mutants. Not here, and, at least, not yet. What we have on campus is a confrontation. The basis of the confrontation is political, not dramatic. It could be demeaning to both the play and the "revolution" to say otherwise.
There is the probability, however, that there is indeed some hidden drama in the "revolution" this image of "The Dream Engine" is applicable enough. There are undoubtedly some students who desire merely to seize a building, to instigate a dramatic confrontation.
If we are to be artists, not politicians, then we must assure the "revolution" of a suitable artistic content. No matter what the results of the moratorium we should seize Converse. We should seize the building, naked and painted, and we should greet the cops with obscenities.
But if we are to concern ourselves with the issues of the crisis, then we must admit to ourselves that we are dealing in politics, and not drama. We should seize a building only in the eventuality that our grievances are ignored. In such a case the seizure would be political.
However it should also be recognized that to date "The Dream Engine" is far more revolutionary than the "revolution" itself. For one thing, laws have been broken - actors appearing naked on the stage and scream obscenities - laws with penalties as stiff as those for trespassing. For another thing, the play is far more explosive than any of the sentiments now floating about the campus.
The purpose of "The Dream Engine" is release. The purpose of the campus "revolution" is change. For some there can be no real revolution without release as well as change. Art and politics, in this case, merge. The result is politically confusing but, given the masochism in the air, perhaps satisfying. To quote playwright Steinman: "Revolution without total release is not revolution but adaption; confrontation without catharsis is a fuck without a cum."
There is not place for compromise in the revolution, either on the stage or off. This must be realized in this sense politics can take a lesson from art. For even to incorporate drama to be effective. If the politicians are to be as consistent as the performers of "The Dream Engine," they must produce a final act.
So revolutionaries, artists, and politicians all, come up or shut up. The metaphor in "The Dream Engine" has come to Amherst. The mutants really might strike back, and the dream engine run mad beneath the stately mansions of the Amherst campus.Original publication scan