The Dreamer Examines His Pillow: review

[Addendum at bottom]

dreamer posterThe language in a play is like language nowhere else in life. You get eloquent soliloquys out of nowhere; tight dialogue batted back and forth without the ums, ahs and hesitations; you get ordinary, bumbling real life boiled down to killing intensity and presented in three acts that build like ladder rungs, elevating you to a view you don’t ordinarily get.

It was good to hear this language, and three brave local actors delivering it, on stage at Clayoquot Community Theatre last night, in the opener of The Dreamer Examines His Pillow.

The play, by Irish-American screenwriter/playwright John Patrick Shanley, is an intense, three-way quest for understanding — of oneself and one’s identity, and how that is warped and captured and mirrored by the other people in one’s life.

There’s bitter Dad (Gary Marks), avoiding life’s complications by withdrawing from human contact. There’s daughter Donna (Sophie L’Homme), who can’t avoid the complications because they are eating her alive. And there’s her lover Tommy (Carlo Marks, also directing), as self-unaware and destructive as the proverbial bull in the china shop. It’s a situation that could go spinning down the toilet so very easily. I won’t say how, or whether, this all works out, just that you have to ride the roller coaster right to the end to find out.

Dreamer is demanding of its cast: three big parts, lots of solo time on stage, lots of physical intimacy and interaction and outright fisticuffs that, for this reviewer at least, were uncomfortable to watch (no doubt the director’s intent). Yes, the piece has humorous moments, but they’re the kind an audience feels uneasy laughing at — people’s foolishness or gross misconceptions or bad decisions.

In the cast, experienced thespian Carlo was clearly comfortable in his element. Suave Marks senior looked delighted to be back on the stage that he built with his own hands some twenty years ago. And stage newcomer Sophie burns with angry intensity as catalyst between the two men.

The ear has some habituation work to do, with Donna’s French accent colliding with the ain’t’s of the working-class dialogue, and a hint of the Irish coming and going in Dad’s half-pickled pronouncements on life. But that’s community theatre for you!

It was interesting to watch the cast gel on opening night. What began as loosely related characters talking at each other, really felt like a crazy, dysfunctional but close family by the end of the play, which bodes well for the rest of the run. I plan to go once more at the end (if i can get a ticket), to see how it evolves.

* * *

This production is a three-way collaboration between Tofino Arts Council, the Pacific Rim Arts Society, and the Clayoquot Sound Community Theatre Association — a happy first for the region! It’s an ambitious and welcome kick-off to what many hope is the revitalization of local theatre in Tofino.

Theme and language are not suitable for kids, though older teenagers can probably relate. Basically it’s a play about, and for, those who have been kicked around by life.

Dreamer runs six times total: Fridays and Saturdays from July 8 to 23, showtime 8 p.m. at Clayoquot Sound Community Theatre in Tofino. Tickets are $15 ($10 for seniors, students, underemployed), available at Common Loaf Bakeshop, Mermaid Tales Bookstore, online at dreamerintofino.brownpapertickets.com, or call 1-250-725-2565.

ADDENDUM 22 JULYWow! I caught the play on opening night, and saw it again tonight (performance #5 of 6). I’m glad i did. Opening night had a tentative air about it, a kind of trying-it-on vibe, and the show was largely carried by playwright Shanley’s strong dialogue. I was curious to see how the performance would mature as it gelled under production. I wasn’t disappointed.

The dialogue is dense and philosophical enough that it was well worth hearing a second time (maybe a third, eventually). But what really solidified was the stage presence. What emerged from rehearsal as three actors delivering lines has become three characters living lives — complicated, passionate, messily self-examining lives, confusion cutting them to the core, with dilemmas they yell and fight out with each other. Bravo.

Special kudos to Sophie L’Homme, who really grew into the part of Donna. On opening night she was bold but clearly the least experienced actor on stage; tonight she held her own as part of the team. And the audience (another full house) felt it.

Lucky folks who have tickets for closing night — you’re in for a treat. It’s sold out, but the ticketless may be be able to get a scalped one at the door. Or maybe they’ll hold the show over for another couple of performances.

All in all, a strong and inspiring resurrection of local theatre production. Much of the audience, me included, came away rooting for more. 

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