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A CurtainUp Review
Dedication or The Stuff of Dreams
by Les Gutman
The play's subtitle (The Stuff of Dreams) might not be too far off -- it is indeed the sort of grab bag of ideas and images that often muddle the brain in the middle of the night. But it seems clear that we are seeing this lazy, overwrought work solely because of the brand name of its author. It is neither as sharp nor as funny as its actors (about whom, more in a minute) -- not to mention its audience members -- deserve. Here, weak melodrama meets even weaker comedy.
The central story line features Lou (Nathan Lane) and Jessie (Alison Fraser) as a "couple" who left New York City to run a children's theater in an upstate shopping center. As the play opens (in the dark), it is Lou's birthday and as a surprise Jessie has arranged a visit to a fantastic but deserted theater in town that has always captured Lou's highly theatrical imagination. (Tagging along is their British technical director, Arnold Chalk (Michael Countryman)). The theater is owned by the rich, miserable, dying Annabelle Willard (Marian Seldes), who loathes the very thought of children's theater (as well as both of its component parts).
Within this basic plot, McNally has dumped a plethora of seemingly topical yet largely unintegrated elements, to which he has further added (for reasons which never materialize) a Courtney Love-esque daughter for Jessie, Ida Head (Miriam Shore), as well as her Shakespeare-spouting roadie boyfriend, Toby (Darren Pettie). For more-or-less comic relief, Annabelle has been given a scary-screepy driver (R.E. Rodgers).
One keeps hoping for some poetic sensation about the glories of the theater, but the closest we get is a few Lane-delivered monologues, the preciousness of which even he cannot overcome. The only actor, in fact, who is impervious to the banality of McNally's writing is Marian Seldes. She finds a way to make most anything interesting to watch or hear, including lines which she could easily have gone through life without having been asked to recite. (When Annabelle tells Lou she is giving him the theater, he says there must be strings attached. She says yes, there are two. What is the first? "Fuck me," she says. OK. What is the second? "Fuck me again.")
The creaky material notwithstanding, the cast as a whole does its best. Aside from Seldes, who is always a joy to see onstage regardless, Nathan Lane soldiers through the play bravely, and he manages to render Lou convincingly and at times even poignantly. This is clearly a role he has undertaken as a favor to his close friend and collegue McNally, and it should be noted that he will be leaving the production Labor Day weekend to begin rehearsals for The Odd Couple. The remainder of the cast is uniformly on target in their portrayals. Michael Morris's direction can be faulted mainly for its loyalty to the script. All of the design elements are appropriate to the play, Laura Crow's costumes being the only aspect that is particularly notable.
Editor's Note: When I saw this play at the Nikos Stage in Williamstown (with Seldes but with Larry Pine and Debra Monk in the Jessie and Lou roles), I was relieved that it was a non-reviewable workshop production. It seemed to me that even the always wonderful Seldes couldn't cure this play's fault lines. Unfortunately, my colleague's opinion indicates that my concerns were not unfounded. --e.ss
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