Watching “Dreamscape” was a thought- provoking experience. It was gritty, relatable and commanding while dealing with life and death, black and white and the many nuances of hip hop.
Completed in 2005 by UC Riverside theatre professor Rickerby Hinds, just one performance of the show was originally planned. Fortunately, those first spectators had eyes and ears and knew an exceptional thing when they saw it, making sure that “Dreamscape” had many encores.
Rhaechyl Walker commanded the stage as the savvy Myeisha Mills, a character inspired by Tyisha Miller, a 19-year-old African American woman who was shot 12 times by Riverside authorities while in a comatose state with a gun in her lap. Walker embodied the spirit of a 19-year-old beautifully; each scene of the play was dominated by a childish narrative that everyone in the audience seemed able to relate to.
The play was divided into eight different parts — one for each bullet, with the last section representing that last four shots fired — which showed how each bullet affected Mills’ dream/ coma state. Mills is stuck in her own alternate reality and is unable to communicate with the police officers shooting her. She focuses on the parts of her anatomy that the bullets penetrate and tells narratives in regards to that particular body part. The first bullet plunged through Mills’ humerus and initiates her story of the dance routines that she makes up with her cousin Tony.
John Merchant played several roles; he was Police Officer Garland, the coroner and the beat boxer who provided the soundtrack of the show. Merchant has a distinctively deep voice. So deep in fact, that in high school he got the nickname “Faahz” in reference to Mufasa from “The Lion King.” Merchant has been beat boxing since he was six years old, and many of the beats from
“Dreamscape” were his own original samples. “I felt as though each bullet deserved a unique sample, and each sample told a different story,”
Merchant said. “Dreamscape” was a show of quality. I do
not use that term lightly. It has pure, full-bodied quality. Everything about it was potent and moving, from the soulful hip hop-infused lines of the script to the fluidity of Walker’s dance movements, from the earthy tone of Merchant’s voice to the complexity of the play as a whole. It is a story but it also really happened. Though it is overwhelmingly sad, parts are also funny as hell.
A meaningful feature of the play is the incorporation of real footage from the death of Tyisha Miller with the story of an average adolescent that anybody could relate to. The combination of authentic facts and a tangible, breathy character made for a compelling experience. The intimate stage of the MultiCultural Center was the perfect space for Walker to sing and tell stories to an emotionally involved audience.
“Dreamscape” is, quite simply, the story of a girl. This girl was 19, full of life and had so much hope for the world and for herself. She made dance routines with her cousins. She indulged in good ol’ southern barbecue and thought Wesley Snipes and Denzel Washington were ideal husbands (“Would you rather kiss Wesley in ‘Blade II’ or Denzel in ‘The Preacher’s Wife’? Wesley in ‘Blade III’ or Denzel in ‘Malcolm X’?”). She played softball, and she was a tomboy. She was just like you or me.
But then she was gone.
Tyisha Miller could still be alive today, but she was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and so everything changed for her and for those she was close to.
“The most important message I want audiences to take away is that they should start a conversation,” playwright and director Hinds said. “I want to generate conversation so that this kind of thing doesn’t have to happen again.”