Perhaps it’s just a reflection of our times, so full of anger and fear, that so many theaters today present plays that feature dysfunctional families or dysfunctional relationships. John Patrick Shanley’s play “The Dreamer Examines His Pillow” is one of those.
The play, peopled by three characters in three consecutive scenes, deals mostly in harsh monologues directed by a woman to her one- time lover, by that same woman to her father, and by a meeting between the three in which dysfunction is addressed, explained, understood, and banished. At least for the moment…
In the first scene the woman, Donna (Scottie Thompson), barges into the squalid one-room hovel of the man she once loved, Tommy (Ade McCormack), to berate him for having transferred his attention to her 16-year-old sister. Tommy is dressed in baggy jeans and a tee shirt filled with holes. She is wearing tattered shorts, black stockings full of multiple holes and runs, and a black pseudo-leather vest.
They engage in small talk that is more vindictive than illuminating but finally admit that they still love each other. But he, a would-be artist, has hung a grotesque painting of himself which he sits and stares at for hours, trying to determine his own identity.
“Your soul is the devil,” she tells him, and warns him that he is going to turn out just like her father, whom she despises. When Tommy attempts to make love to her, she breaks away angrily and goes to see her father, as Tommy has suggested. Even though she hasn’t seen her father in a very long time, she goes to him with a mission: She wants him to make Tommy marry her, or else to beat him up.
In the second scene Donna visits her father (Sal Landi) who greets her sarcastically with “It’s my daughter, come to make me a parent!”
A one-time successful painter, he now sits alone, drinking and brooding about his dead wife, whom he treated brutally when she was alive. He explains his behavior by explaining that “Women want to trap a man; men yearn to be free.”
In the third impassioned monologue of the evening he talks about his wife and the fact that “the bed was all we had — nothing more.”
He talks about the passion of their sex and how he had felt swallowed up in it, which in turn encourages Donna to verbally and physically relive the sexual excitement that she had experienced with Tommy.
Her dad confesses that sex went dead when he “knew what sex was for,” but he assures her that “when sex goes dead, it comes back.” And in answer to her question about when he had stopped painting, he replies, “When I found out I was alone in the world.”
The final scene brings the three characters together to confront each other, to challenge each other, and to contemplate their future. The exercise doesn’t really resolve their differences, but it does hold out the possibility of making them a little less dysfunctional.
This production of “The Dreamer Examines His Pillow”, directed by Mark Blanchard, is enhanced by the three exceptional actors who enliven what might have been a rather static play. The action is all in the intensity of the monologues, which hold your attention throughout. The only distraction is in the differing accents of Donna and Tommy. Because the play is set in New York, Donna attempts to speak “New Yawkish” (she keeps referring to her “muthah” and “sistah”), but fortunately she loses the accent most of the time. Tommy, on the other hand, speaks with an Oxford-educated English accent that is pleasant but has nothing to do with the play. Only Sal Landi’s delivery is straight-forward, uncomplicated, and consistent.
But maybe this is what is normal for a play that identifies itself as taking place in “New York and the Universe” in the “Present Day or For All Time.”
“The Dreamer Examines His Pillow” can be seen at The Lounge 2 Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd. in Los Angeles, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 through September 24. Tickets can be ordered online at http://www.plays411.com/dreamer.