Review: THE DREAMER EXAMINES HIS PILLOW Offers an Over-the-Top Look at Sex, Life, and Love
First produced in the mid-1980s, John Patrick Shanley's THE DREAMER EXAMINES HIS PILLOW holds interest as an early work by the multi-award-winning playwright who went on to win the Pulitzer for DOUBT and an Oscar for MOONSTRUCK. His early play offers musings about life, sex, death and relationships, directed by Mark Blanchard at the Hudson Mainstage Theatre.
The action opens on a minimally designed set by Aaron Jackson to suggest a rundown, almost flophouse-like apartment, in which we find Tommy (Ade M'Cormack) talking drunkenly to his refrigerator, an appliance that might have some mystical (or merely pretentious) connection to the plot. M'Cormack's well-directed intensity is modified to perfection between the silence of self-examination and the heights of anger throughout the show.
Into Tommy's squalid apartment storms his ex-girlfriend Donna (Michelle G. Stratton in for Scottie Thompson at the performance I attended), who is furious because Tommy has been having an affair with her 16-year-old sister. That, however, is not quite enough to cure Donna of her physical addiction for Tommy, whose very touch, apparently, lifts her to planes of Elysian ecstasy. Tommy adores her as well, but his protean ability to rationalize his misbehavior is a barrier to their romance.
As this was only Stratton's fourth performance in the role, her lack of physical chemistry with M'Cormack paled in passion compared with her solo masturbation scene during which Donna seeks the advice of her dad (Sal Landi whose portrayal started slowly and then exploded in the final scenes), a once successful artist who is every bit as much of a womanizing reprobate as Tommy, and made Donna's mother's life a living hell despite the fact that she was ostensibly the love of his life.
Apparently, as Dad explains it, his sexual life with his wife was so intense, he needed commonplace couplings with other women as a way to compare with the sublime raptures of his marriage bed. It's a mind-boggling rationale for philandering, centered upon Dad's ramblings about his wife's head dent in her pillow, made while dreaming.
After Dad's explosive meeting with Tommy, for which he arrives dressed in a tuxedo to confront the man who is breaking his daughter's heart, all the characters seem to come together in a somewhat "happy" ending that bodes well - or ill - for all. Shanley leaves that decision up to the audience, while throwing in an impromptu wedding to add a glimmer of hope for all of us die-hard romantics.
To be honest, I felt the play was a bit verbose and over-the-top preachy through much of it, often making the long character monologues too complicated to follow. But in the end, Shanley's play reminds us that you never know how the extreme highs and lows of sex, life, and love will affect you. And that is something to which everyone will nod their head in agreement.
THE DREAMER EXAMINES HIS PILLOW by John Patrick Shanley, directed by Mark Blanchard, continues through Sunday, October 29, 2017 on Fri/Sat at 8pm, Sun at 2pm at the Hudson Mainstage Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd, Hollywood, CA 90038. General admission tickets are $25 and may be purchased in advance by calling (323) 960-7724, online at www.plays411.com/dreamer, or at the theatre box office beginning one hour prior to each performance.
Photo credit: Logan S. Hufford