You don't need to know dick — science-fiction author Philip K. Dick, that is — to appreciate the Caravan Theatre of Pittsburgh's daring new multimedia, multi-dimensional production. The unwieldy title, 800 Words: The Transmigration of Philip K. Dick, takes its first part from the aphorism of science-fiction "Golden Age" writer A.E. van Vogt to introduce a new thought every 800 words. And the 2007 play by Victoria Stewart certainly does, careening through the last days of the brilliant, if chemically addled, writer.
The prolific Dick did not live long enough to appreciate the fame and fortune earned when his stories began begetting hit movies (e.g., Blade Runner, Total Recall). The play moves back and forth in time, questioning reality, utilizing the principal themes of Dick's 31-year career. His final, posthumously published novel, The Transmigration of Timothy Archer, continued the religious discussions and experiences that 800 Words' "hero" wrestles with.
Caravan founder and artistic director John Gresh flawlessly and physically fills the role, and often the stage, with relish. He is surrounded by a well-chosen cast directed by Martin Giles, well paced and accented with SF-like special effects in light and sound. (Thank you, Terry Dana Jachimiak II, set and lighting designer.)
Most noticeable in the supporting cast is Tony Bingham, who literally changes character at the drop, er, lift of a hat. Both his characters are laughably one-dimensional, but on totally different and non-intersecting planes. Also notable are Lily Davis as the grown-up phantasm of Dick's long-dead twin sister (who's also his fantasy female), and Gayle Pazerski as the puppeteer and voice of Dick's final companion, his possibly divinely inspired cat. (A hand here to puppet-makers Norman Beck and Venise St. Pierre.) And more applause goes to: Dana Hardy as Dick's fifth and final wife, a voice of reason; Don DiGiulio as the literary agent perturbed by Dick's increasingly esoteric endeavors; and Diana Ifft as the playwright Stewart, sassily inserting and asserting herself in the comedy-drama.