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BWW Reviews: Fresh Ink Theatre Debuts with PRISCILLA DREAMS THE ANSWER

Priscilla Dreams the Answer

Written by Walt McGough, Directed by Melanie Garber; Dramaturg, Jessie Baxter; Stage Manager, Terry Torres; Set Designer, Andrea VanDenBroeke; Lighting Designer, Michael Clark Wonson; Asst. Lighting Designer, Erik Fox; Costume Designer, Vivian Yee; Props Master, Cassandra Meyer

CAST: Caroline L. Price (Priscilla), Michael Caminiti (Simon/One), Bob Mussett (Harry/Two), Emily Kaye Lazzaro (Zip/Three), Dakota Shepard (Zop/Four)

Performances by Fresh Ink Theatre Company through December 17 at The Factory Theatre, 791 Tremont Street, Boston, MA; Info & Tickets 866-811-4111 $16 General Admission

In a play which ascribes great significance to game shows, it seems fitting that there are more questions than answers and that the final answer is something of a rhetorical question. Sounds perplexing, doesn’t it? I could be wrong, but I think it is the intention of playwright Walt McGough that the audience of Priscilla Dreams the Answer has food for thought upon leaving the theatre, rather than to sleepwalk through the experience. Priscilla is a modern day Dorothy Gale who is never quite sure if her encounters with strange beings take place in her head or in reality and we have to decide for ourselves.

Fresh Ink Theatre Company is one of the new kids on the Boston fringe theatre block, springing forth from the foundation of the disbanded 11:11 Theatre Company. Its mission – to develop new, local work – is well-served by collaborating with up-and-comer McGough, whose drama The Farm, about a CIA agent’s exit interview, showed his promise in a production at Boston Playwrights’ Theatre in October. For this reviewer, it was the compelling writing and strong story of the latter which steered me in the direction of Fresh Ink’s debut with Priscilla, winner of the 2011 Capital Fringe Festival Audience Award for Best Comedy.

Priscilla is amusing, but it would be selling it short to think of it only in terms of comedy. There is a deep, existential message mixed in with a heaping serving of symbolism and metaphors, but the message is delivered by a quintet of quirky characters, making it delightful to chew on and swallow. At its core is an enchanting story about Priscilla, a young woman who rarely sleeps, but often dreams. She is struggling to get past a trauma in her life, seeking solace from a constant stream of game shows projecting a mesmerizing blue glare from the television screen. She develops an obsession with Simon, a young contestant who goes from show to show, with an uncanny ability to answer all of the questions posed to him, no matter how remote or obscure.   

While the audience is watching Priscilla (Caroline L. Price) watching television, four characters named One, Two, Three, and Four narrate the tale, providing commentary on Priscilla’s state of mind, whether awake or dreaming, and play-acting scenic elements with great imagination. McGough’s wild imagination spawns the characters of Priscilla’s boss Harry (Bob Mussett), seemingly a veteran of every war that ever occurred, and the aliens Zip (Emily Kaye Lazzaro) and Zop (Dakota Shepard), who telepathically converse with Priscilla before popping up in her apartment in their effort to recruit her to save their world and ours. Parenthetically, she is trying desperately to save herself from drowning in a roiling river of uncharted emotions and nagging questions about life. Unusual math equations, mysterious advice from Harry, reams of bubble wrap, and lessons from Simon all come into play in Priscilla’s search for salvation. Like Dorothy, she learns that some things are unknowable, but that what is in your heart matters most.

Price authentically portrays the gamut of Priscilla’s emotions, from crying on her couch, to a sense of wonder in her dreams, to her joy when popping bubble wrap with Simon. Lazzaro and Shepard are darling as the pair of aliens, speaking in clipped voices, keeping their arms bent at 90 degrees, and using robot-like mannerisms. Mussett gets into Harry’s skin, bringing forth his warmth, humor, and sagacity in a fatherly relationship with Priscilla. Simon is the spiritual center of the story and Michael Caminiti plays the role with a placid demeanor, while emitting an inner heat fired by the pain of searching for the difficult answers.   

Director Melanie Garber has formed the five actors into a cohesive ensemble that also relates well with the very closely situated audience. She keeps them moving around the small space and creates the illusion of different locales with ample assistance from Lighting Designer Michael Clark Wonson. Andrea VanDenBroeke’s set consists of Priscilla’s apartment, with its Victorian-era couch and telephone table, and a large table with a “Hobbies” sign over it to suggest the store where she works with Harry. Vivian Yee has designed funky, imaginative costumes for the aliens, and Priscilla dresses in layers which she removes piecemeal to reveal her changing condition throughout the play.

Priscilla Dreams the Answer is a brief adventure, running only about an hour. However, McGough packs a lot of images and ideas into that short span and the questions stay with you, perhaps until you go home and have your own dreams. It seems that Fresh Ink Theatre is well on its way to making theirs come true.   

Photo credit: Sarah E. Farbo (Bob Mussett, Dakota Shepard, Caroline L. Price, Michael Caminiti, Emily Kaye Lazzaro)

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