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A CurtainUp Review
Well, there's not much sleep in evidence during Anton Dudley's
Paris, the City of Light and so much more, is hands down the star of the show. It's the one dream that's constant throughout. Other dreams come and go, the domain of any one of the show's four protagonists. But Paris is the dream they share. Each feels that in Paris they will somehow be their true — or at least truer — selves. And, for the most part, they're right.
Dash (Devin Norik) and Claude (Jon Norman Schneider) meet in New York, at MOMA, where Claude is admiring Rousseau's The Dream while Dash is admiring Claude. Each notes the similarity of the acronym "MOMA" to the word Momma, and we eventually learn that each of their dreams is centered on their mothers. Claude, an orphan, wants to find his birth mother, and Dash seeks a connection with his deceased mother, a wealthy art collector who owned the Rousseau on display.
Meanwhile Cammie (Colby Minifie), who's never been to Paris before, meets Eleanor (Suzanne Bertish), an older seasoned traveler, at the airport. Cammie's dream, we soon find out, is to sing at the Paris Opera. In fact, she'd carrying an aria around in her handbag. She doesn't like to check bags, so she has five pairs of shoes in her coat pockets. One falls out (along with her ticket) and Eleanor helps her retrieve them. Eleanor's dream is the least clearly articulated, which is a shame since Bertish is an authoritative actress, deserving of a more definitive through line. She starts out looking for her father, an old painter who's probably dead, then somehow her quest evaporates and she spends most of the rest of the play in a white nightgown, somewhat addled.
At various times the four principals address the audience as a group, speaking all at a time or two at a time or alternating lines. It's an arresting presentation the first time but gets tiresome upon repetition. The play includes cameos by French poet Paul Verlaine and painter Maurice Denis. There's also a subplot about a gargoyle on the church of Notre Dame (Steven Rattazzi) courting a pigeon (Cheryl Stern) who regularly rests on an adjoining ledge. Dream or drama — take your pick. It seems to be intended to provide some comic relief, but it doesn't
. When City Of works, it can be quite beguiling. Fact flows smoothly into fiction and each sheds light on the other. This is especially true when two of the characters' dreams come true.
Upon arrival in Paris, Cammie heads for the Paris Opera, which she finds chained and locked. Undaunted, she asks everyone she meets throughout the play to come and see her when she sings there. Sure enough, she has her debut which is both funny and fresh. We never expected her to pull it off, but she does, at what level of consciousness we're not sure but can guess. It's clear that her singing voice is piped in, which somehow makes it even funnier.
Claude's successful, if fortuitous, discovery of his mother is another high point. She's a bag lady of sorts – sporting sweaters instead of bags – and their connection is quite moving. She finds an elegant dress and joins Dash and Claude (now an established couple) to see Cammie at the Opera.
Dash's encounter with the spirit of his dead mother is less satisfying. She paints his arms, one red and one blue, for no apparent reason. Since we don't even know for sure what Eleanor's dream is, it's hard to find any satisfaction in its fulfillment.
Cameron Anderson's set is a mostly unadorned space, an appropriate landscape for dreaming. The Rousseau painting and a bed appear (at different times) to the side and/or back of the stage. Director Stephen Brackett adroitly positions his actors to take maximum advantage of the largely empty playing area, aided by lighting designer Brian Tovar.
Anton Dudley's script is certainly ambitious, but it keeps our attention only in fits and starts. The moments of true interaction are moving, even enchanting, but there's too much white noise in-between.