Vertigo’s ‘The Thing About The Dream’ explores assimilation, self-reflection and South Asian identity


Illustration by Lily Ogburn

“The Thing About The Dream” will take place on Friday at 7 and 10 p.m. and Saturday at 2 and 7 p.m. in Shanley Pavilion.

Virginia Hunt, Reporter

Toying with ideas of timeline crossovers and a melding of different genres, Communication junior Mantra Radhakrishnan sought to develop a play that was unique and representative of the South Asian experience.

Radhakrishnan began writing “The Thing About The Dream” her sophomore year after reflecting on her transition to Northwestern as an international student from Bangaluru, India.

Now, the play by Vertigo Productions is being brought to the stage. The production will be held Friday at 7 and 10 p.m. and Saturday at 2 and 7 p.m. in Shanley Pavilion.

The play takes place in two timelines, one in 2018 set in India and the other in 2022 in America . The cuts between the two timelines are reflective of main character Rekha’s assimilation into American culture juxtaposed with her Indian roots, a topic that Radhakrishnan said resonated with her life.

In the 2018 timeline, Rekha is a stand-up comedian in India who finds a pressure cooker bomb at one of her shows and searches for the person who may have planted it. In the 2022 timeline, Rekha has moved to the U.S. and fulfilled her dream career of comedy writing, but is still grappling with discontentment and isolation as she realizes she’s not as happy as she thought she would be. 

Communication junior Lilah Weisman, the play’s producer, said she and Radhakrishnan discussed the importance of having a cast that represented South Asian culture and understood the nuances of assimilation woven into the work. Weisman and Radhakrishnan tried to accomplish this vision by reaching out to the South Asian Students Alliance and many non-theatre students.

“There are a few people in the cast that have either never done a play before or never acted on Northwestern’s campus before,” Weisman said. “But they came in really excited to learn.”

Getting comfortable acting was not the only challenge cast members faced. In the audition note, the team wrote that actors should be willing to dance, Weisman said.

The play features Bollywood dance, a lively style common in traditional Indian films which has shaped fashion, economics and culture.

Communication junior Arham Khalid, who studies film at Northwestern University in Qatar but is currently studying at Evanston’s campus, found out about the play through her love for Bollywood. 

Khalid enrolled in Asian Languages and Cultures 260: Kings, Courtesans, and Khan Artists due to the class’s focus on Bollywood and Indian cinema. When Radhakrishnan came into the class to spread the word about auditions, Khalid said she saw the production as an opportunity to do something special.

“Ultimately, I was here for two quarters and thought, ‘You know, maybe just try it out,’” Khalid said. “I thought (the play) was an amazing idea.”

Khalid, who landed the role of Captain Aunty, does not have prior theatre experience. However, she hoped that acting in the play would help her gain insight into the production process that she can apply to her screenwriting, she said.

Khalid, Weisman and Radhakrishnan all noted that the way each person participated in the production development contributed to their own enjoyment of the process and the success of the play. 

“I’m a very collaborative person, even though writing sometimes seems kind of like a solo journey,”  Radhakrishnan said. “There are so many people that have contributed to this.”

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