Every aspect of grief is explored in a University of Platteville-Baraboo Sauk County theater production that debuts Thursday at R.G. Brown Theatre.
“The Dream of the Burning Boy” is directed by Molly Maslin Arbogast and features a cast of characters who all react differently to the death of a high school student named Dane.
Its many layers "is the value of theater,” according to the Baraboo resident with 35 years of experience in professional theater. “It puts all of these things in front of us: We get trapped in our own ideas about how we’re supposed to deal with things, and sometimes we don’t consider how other people process or move through” tragic events.
Its seven actors include five students and two community members including Scott Rawson of Reedsburg. He plays the English teacher named Larry Morrow who, in Dane, had seen much of himself.
“He definitely compartmentalizes his grief,” Rawson said of Larry and why his struggles are valuable for audiences to consider. “He’s stuck in denial. I won’t give away exactly what that means (in the story), but his real denial is about the emotions of what he’s feeling.”
Dane dies of a brain aneurysm at the age of 17 -- a completely unavoidable and unpredictable death that sets the story into motion, Arbogast said. It’s written by David West Read, best known as the writer and executive producer of the Canadian TV comedy series, “Schitt’s Creek.”
According to the university’s play synopsis, Larry, after Dane’s death, keeps falling asleep at his desk and dreaming. A school guidance counselor hangs inspirational posters designed to help the others “process their emotions,” all while Dane’s family and friends express anger and agitation.
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As Larry's dreams become more vivid, a secret gets revealed and changes everything.
“Grief is something that -- even if we want to look away from it -- we all have to deal with at some point in our lives,” Arbogast said of the play. “Whether that’s losing a pet or a loved one or a job or a home or even our favorite mug that gets broken, it hits everyone. The play addresses this beautifully, including how we sometimes don’t support each other enough during that (grieving) process.”
Rawson and Arbogast both belong to the Creative Alliance of Baraboo and split their time between acting and directing in the region. Rawson, for example, directed the Monty Python comedy “Spamalot” for the Portage Area Community Theatre in 2017.
He said the message of the university play is simple: “No one is alone.” Even if people try to keep their grief to themselves, as his character is wont to do, they never go through such experiences by themselves -- not truly.
“One of the things we feel when someone close to us passes away is that no one can understand what we’re going through,” Rawson said. “But we learn that a shared experience is a better experience; it brings us all closer together."