Sunday, 29 June 2014

Theatre review: Dream of Perfect Sleep

Continuing what's been something of a bleak-themed 2014 at the Finborough is a look at dementia and mortality in Kevin Kautzman's Dream of Perfect Sleep. At one time a scholar who traveled the world, Mary (Susan Tracy) is now gradually losing her mind to dementia. Her husband Gene (Martin Wimbush,) having recovered from an unspecified illness a few years back, has now had an incurable relapse. It's not Christmas, but Gene has told Mary it is, and decorated the house accordingly becuase he's invited their children to visit: Insomniac, ex-pill addict Robert (Cory English) and their adopted daughter, the hippie-ish Melissa (Lisa Caruccio Came) are coming to this pretend Christmas Eve because Gene wants to tell them about their parents' failing health, but also how they plan to deal with it: In her more lucid moments Mary has asked that she is not left alone to lose who she is.

So this is a farewell gathering, and when their children leave the two will kill themselves together. Melissa seems to see a beauty in their intentions but Robert thinks his father is the one who's losing his mind.

Although dealing with big subjects on a sometimes surprisingly large scale, Dream of Perfect Sleep is essentially an intimate family drama that keeps coming back to the issue of lack of communication. Gene's inability to relate to his biological son has left Robert believing he loves his adopted daughter more. And Melissa fears that, as she and her brother don't often see each other, their parents' impending deaths will see them lose touch altogether.

The unexpectedly epic scale comes from Mary's past as an expert on Greek and near-East mythology, which in her illness has translated into episodes where she believes herself to be the Sumerian fertility goddess Inanna. It's particularly the story of Inanna's journey to the Underworld - and the fact that the myth is unclear on why she undertook it - that she keeps coming back to, and it ties in with her husband's terror of his own death even as he plans it.

There's conviction in the performances in Max Pappenheim's production, and some nice touches in Holly Seager's design - the Christmas tree hanging upside-down from the ceiling turns out to have a very specific relevance to Mary's condition, while installing actual working US-style plug sockets shows attention to detail. But there's a few too many themes vying for attention in the 90 minutes for the play to really take off. And there's a bit too much of the characters SUDDENLY SHOUTING AT EACH OTHER BECAUSE DRAMA for me to really care for the production.

Dream of Perfect Sleep by Kevin Kautzman is booking until the 12th of July at the Finborough Theatre.

Running time: 1 hour 35 minutes straight through.

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