The Dreamer Examines His Pillow
Reviewed by Neal Weaver
The Lounge Theatre
Through September 24
John Patrick Shanley is practically unique among American playwrights in that although he has consistently hewed to a distinctly personal vision and style, he has achieved impressive commercial success as a screenwriter (Moonstruck, Doubt) and a director (Doubt). His more than 20 plays — in a variety of styles, ranging from realism to magic realism, expressionism and fantasy —achieve multiple productions every year. He has a taste for large subjects and themes, which are tempered by his fidelity to the tough realities of the Bronx neighborhood where he grew up.
In The Dreamer Examines His Pillow, Shanley looks at what happens when our personal needs and appetites veer away from our moral and ethical standards, and the heart wants what it wants (or doesn’t want) irrespective of our notions of right and wrong.
Donna (Scottie Thompson) is deeply in love with Tommy (Ade McCormack), although she disapproves of him. He is “porking” her teenaged sister Mona, has robbed his own mother, and seems to rationalize all his misdeeds by claiming they are part of his voyage to self-discovery. But the sex is terrific.
In her perplexity she turns to her semi-estranged Dad (Sal Landi), whom she loathes because of his ill-treatment of her mother. He is an irascible former painter, who lost his ability (or need) to paint after the death of his wife. He’s less than thrilled to find Donna back in his life, and tells her some startling home truths about the nature of love, and the difference between what should be and what is. She is stunned to discover that the old man deeply loved her mother, and it was the frightening power of that love that made him ill-treat her. Finally, he agrees to have a talk with Tommy. That conversation rounds off the tale, which arrives at a conventional “happy ending” by a highly unconventional route.
Director Mark Blanchard has given the piece a beautiful production, carefully modulated yet full of surprises. And he has assembled a near perfect cast. Thompson’s Donna is a volatile figure, who strikes out in all directions because she doesn’t know whom to blame. And she is also an eloquent listener. McCormack’s Tommy sometimes makes us want to shake him out of his smug self-justifications, yet he never entirely loses our sympathy. And as the cantankerous Dad, Landi brings us to the slow realization that his toughness is perhaps tough love — that beneath his bluster is a man who cares enough to seek unorthodox solutions. He understands Tommy because he sees himself in him. And he has learned the hard way the importance of cleaving to the things that deeply matter to us, even if they don’t meet our expectations, or scare the bejesus out of us.
Aaron Lyons designed the minimalist set, Donny Jackson provides the lighting design, and Nick Machado supplies the sound design.
The Lounge 2 Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Boulevard, Hollywood. Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m. http://www.plays411.com/dreamer. Running time: 95 minutes with no intermission.