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Review: FIRE IN DREAMLAND at Filigree Theatre

Review: FIRE IN DREAMLAND at Filigree Theatre

Now through February 12th

Filigree's second production of their fourth season concerns the sea. Feeling "land-locked" as many of us have over the course of the pandemic and the last few years, Filigree sets out in this season, to express the desires we may have had for a "yearning for expansiveness and escape." Filigree Artistic Director Elizabeth V. Newman uses this yearning for the theatre's theme of BY THE SEA, not just for this production of FIRE IN DREAMLAND, but each play produced in this company's current season.

Some time after Hurricane Sandy blows through the east coast we meet Kate (Kathleen Fletcher) on the Coney Island Boardwalk. She's grieved about her father's passing but still, she almost immediately engages us in a story of the very real 1911 fire that burned down Coney Island's Dreamland amusement park. She's infatuated with the story. She's also infatuated with the visionary filmmaker who is making a film (don't say movie) about it.

Is she enamored with him or the ideas he brings to her life? And how is this going to shake out? She's told us not to expect a happy ending. We then cut to a series of scenes about Kate's relationship with the filmmaker, Jaap (Brough Hansen). He captures her mind and heart with his plans to make a film about the FIRE IN DREAMLAND. This is exactly what she told us he'd do.

Rinne Groff's FIRE IN DREAMLAND is a play about filmmaking, discontent and the dreams we have as creatives. But in this production, FIRE IN DREAMLAND is just as much about a disillusioned thirty-something woman who falls for a guy who shows all the signs of being a narcissistic grifter. Is he a grifter, or is he just unwilling to let go of his dreams?

The story is revealed to us through a series of movie tropes that include cuts in scenes and points of view just like a, well, a film. A third character arrives at the end of the first act. Lance (Allen Porterie), a timid film student who has been loaning gear to Yaap, is the character behind the clapperboard we've been hearing to denote scene changes throughout the first act. It looks like Lance has been spending some quality time with Yaap, too.

As if things weren't already starting to unravel, things worsen in Act II. Kate's situation has handed her a set of circumstances about which she'll have to make some clear choices. Lance actually helps her to make them, despite working through becoming a functioning adult himself. And in the background of it all, there is the story of a fire and the tragic loss that a bold and charismatic young filmmaker hopes to tell. Or does he? No one gets out of this story with a realized dream, but they do come out wiser.

FIRE IN DREAMLAND holds promise. Fletcher, Hansen and Porterie provide engaging performances. As the disillusioned 30-something woman who told her father on his deathbed that she'd be somebody, Fletcher is a captivating storyteller. Porterie provides an understated performance here as an anxious film student who has a voice, even though it takes Lance some time to use it. Hansen is magnetic and funny and more importantly, convincing. Or is he? That's the beauty of his role.

But there's something amiss the cast can't be blamed for. There's not enough tension or suffering in the script to create a true tragedy for any of these characters. Thus, there's a risk of viewing FIRE IN DREAMLAND as an average story about another narcissist getting away with wrecking another set of lives, instead of a thoughtful piece about our aspirations and the barriers to making them real.

But perhaps that's our playwright's point: are we committed to dreams that are as big as the fire in Dreamland? Are we Black Prince, the lion who died trying to escape the fire in Dreamland in a literal blaze of glory, or are we the ponies who are led safely out of the fire with no fanfare? Perhaps these are the questions this script is meant to evoke. Somehow, I like to think our lives can happily land somewhere in between.

While the script held me at a distance, this did not seem so for several other audience members on opening night. Some were much more fascinated about context and metaphor than I. But this is also a play about creativity and art and the ways our dreams about our art can clash with the lives of others. That is relatable for most of us. Perhaps it will be relatable for you, too.


by Rinne Groff

Directed by Elizabeth V. Newman

Filigree Theatre

Factory on 5th

3409 E 5th St.

Austin, TX, 78702


February 02 - February 12, 2023

Tickets available HERE

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