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A CurtainUp Review
the dreamer examines his pillow
dreamer. . . examines the broken relationship between Tommy (Shane Patrick Kearns) and Donna (Lauren Nicole Cipoletti). It starts with Tommy sitting in a decrepit one-room apartment with whitewashed walls and a morbid self-portrait with a slash of red where one of the eyes should be. The room is barely furnished: bed, chair, plastic crates, mini-refrigerator.
Tommy, wearing a sleeveless undershirt that looks like it hasn't been washed in weeks, is talking to the refrigerator. It's not clear why, but later in the play the refrigerator opens on its own and emits a burst of light. It's not clear why that happens either. With a pained expression that never leaves his face, Tommy looks as rundown as his surroundings.
Then there's a knock on the door. It's not just any knock; it's a loud, insistent barrage of knocks. It's Tommy's one-time girlfriend, Donna, replete with a New York accent so thick you could cut it with a knife. She's angry because she's heard Tommy's been doing it with her sixteen-year-old sister, Mona. Tommy, who seems to have a way with the ladies despite his degenerate condition, admits it's true. Donna goes ballistic. There's shouting, shouting, and more shouting.
And even more shouting. It seems like not a line is delivered at normal volume. There are actually some funny lines in this scene but they get drowned out by the noise. Still, it's clear there's lingering electricity between Donna and Tommy. Several times they end up in ta compromising position, but one of them — that would be Donna — breaks off. Finally, Donna, for reasons also not fully clear (What else is new?), decides she has to consult with her father.
Donna and Dad (Dennis Parlato) are not on the best of terms, but they talk and he explains that the reason he cheated on her deceased mother was that his love for her was so intense he couldn't stand it. It's a line that Donna buys, but she's not the one he was cheating on. He dispenses would-be wisdom and agrees, at Donna's behest, to go see Tommy, to either straighten him out or beat him up. Donna shows up in a wedding dress.
the dreamer examines his pillow was written by John Patrick Shanley, who won the Pulitzer Prize about twenty years later for Doubt. It's hard to believe it debuted in 1986, just a year before Moonstruck, for which he wrote the screenplay. Both works are whimsical, but dreamer. . . is cutting without being cutting edge. It confuses abrasive with funny. And it only occasionally finds a way to connect its rough-and-tumble characters to laughs.
The crucial first scene, which not only sets the stage but also constitutes the essence of the play, is all on one note. A little variety would have served it well.
Scenic designer Julia Noulin-Merat does a bang-up job establishing the seediness of Tommy's living quarters and, by extension, his life. Yet when the same set is rearranged, with different coverings on the bed to create Dad's place, something is put under the covers that forms a long lump, almost like a body. It's distracting — you keep waiting for someone or something to jump out.
As Donna, Cipoletti is an explosion of energy. She yells too much, at least when she's with Tommy, but there's something behind it. She carries the show, and that's a lot to carry.
Kearns's Tommy is a loser's loser. He's devoid of charm, a miscalculated acting and/or directorial choice, since it's hard to fathom what Donna sees in him. Parlato makes a fine, sagacious Dad. Would that he had some erudition to share.
You have to wonder what made the Attic Theater Company revive this second rate work from a playwright whose oeuvre contains so much better work.