Gina Leishman

Composer, Multi-instrumentalist, and Singer

San Diego Reader 2/24/1994 – Burning Dreams

by Jeff Smith

My barely legible notes from the S.D. Rep’s Burning Dreams read like a hallucination. Some examples: “recuerda”, “breathe secret”, “bald dude in long johns serenades dead hand”, “fronds from Henri Rousseau’s ‘The Dream’ painting infold into votive candles”, “Gina graces glasses of water”, “is Sigismundo having an out-of-body experience, or are you?” Also, “the moon is down, and the dark side’s all mathematics”, “much pulling on invisible ropes”, “the heart is a lonely apple”, “return of the prodigal one-third frame”. and “me acuerdo”.

As I review my notes, however, they begin to make sense. “Recuerda” is a Spanish injunction to remember (also “to awaken from sleep”). And although very little is obvious at the beginning of Burning Dreams, it’s clear that, in order to discover the truth about herself, Rosaura must recollect her past. She has no idea how much she doesn’t know. And at the end, “me acuerdo” – literally, “I remember myself” – comes from the Spanish verb acordar, which also means “to tune musical instruments”, “to compose figures in a picture”, and “to come to an agreement”. By the end of Burning Dreams, Gina Leishman’s splendid score, a host of haunting theatrical images (my notes also mention “eggs of sand from the fridge”), and Rosaura’s nonlinear journey through the dreamscape of her past become tuned, composed, and in accord with the truth about who she is…

The real star of Burning Dreams is Gina Leishman’s music. The piece is an opera, often atonal. it is sung throughout and accompanied by quirky instruments. Along with clarinets and saxes, there’s a charango, a surdo, a “naive trumpet” (which makes one wonder why) and Leishman’s trademark accordion. Leishman, who also scored the wonderful music for the Rep’s Red Noses in 1988, also plays a “glass armonica”, running her fingers over spinning glasses of water and creating ethereal resonances. The music (is) the real narrator of the story, the primary language…

…If you love exciting, fearless, relentlessly experimental theater, go to the Lyceum, read nothing, and find out what it feels like to be “half child, half grown, half me, half unknown.”