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800 Words Looks at the Bizarre World of Philip K. Dick March 3-5

Story posted February 25, 2005

"Insanity is sometimes an appropriate response to reality." - Philip K. Dick

The Bowdoin College Department of Theater and Dance will present 800 Words: The Transmigration of Philip K. Dick Thursday through Saturday, March 3, 4, and 5. Performances will be at 8 p.m. in Pickard Theater, Memorial Hall. The play is written by Victoria Stewart and directed by Sonja G. Moser, lecturer in theater for the Department of Theater and Dance.

Free tickets are available at the David Saul Smith Union information desk, by calling (207) 725-3375, or at the door. (The play includes adult subject matter and is not suitable for young children.)

800 Words: The Transmigration of Philip K. Dick uses the fictionalized life experiences of one of the first novelists to explore the idea of virtual reality. Dick (1928-82) is considered one of the most influential science fiction writers of the 20th century.

The play explores, as Dick did, the nature of our relationship to God. Stewart has written a fittingly phantasmagoric story that includes a mysterious cat (in puppet form), shady G-men, drug dealers and more.

In a "truth is stranger than fiction" sense, Philip K. Dick's personal reality can be dramatized only with such uncommon theatrical techniques. In the early 1970s, while his marriage was falling apart and after a life of heavy drug and alcohol use, he began having visions. He wasn't sure if his visions were authentic or if they were symptoms of drug abuse or insanity. He was fascinated that he could no longer tell what was real and what wasn't. He started writing a series of increasingly strange novels about the nature of reality.

Dick's novels were highly regarded in science fiction circles and in Europe, but they didn't make any money, so Dick wound up on welfare in a seedy California neighborhood. He began to suffer from paranoid delusions, believing the FBI and the CIA were keeping tabs on him. When someone broke into Dick's house and destroyed his papers, he found the incident strangely comforting, noting in his diary, "At least I'm not paranoid."

It was during this period that he wrote some of his most important novels, including Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, which was the inspiration for the film Blade Runner, and A Scanner Darkly, which has also been adapted for a soon-to-be-released movie starring Keanu Reeves. Other cinematic versions of his short stories include Total Recall, Screamers, Minority Report and Paycheck.

After Dick finally got off drugs, his visions only grew stronger. But even though he thought it was the most important experience of his life, he also constantly wondered if it had been real or just some weird drug flashback or a stroke, writing, "They ought to make it a binding clause that if you find God you get to keep him.... Finding God (if indeed [I] did find God) became, ultimately, a bummer, a constantly diminishing supply of joy sinking lower and lower like the contents of a bag of [drugs]."

800 Words: The Transmigration of Philip K. Dick is produced with assistance from the Alice Cooper Morse Fund for the Performing Arts and the Friends Fund.

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