Dream of Perfect Sleep*** (Finborough Theatre)

Posted: June 20, 2014 in Theatre

photo-124This review was originally written for The Public Reviews: http://www.thepublicreviews.com

Sleep,“’tis a consummation devoutly to be wished” according to the Bard and so ’tis here, as we see an elderly couple edging inexorably towards eternal sleep and their insomniac son tortured by his past. American writer Kevin Kautzman’s 90 minute one act play, a reflection on mortality and inter-generational tensions, is getting its World Premier at the Finborough and it is nothing like as downbeat as a summary of its storyline might suggest. Mary and Gene are septuagenarians, a devoted couple who have been married for over 40 years, but she now suffers from dementia and he has been diagnosed with cancer, knowing that he has little time left. It is not December, but they have invited home their son Robert and adopted daughter Melissa to celebrate a “random” Christmas, rekindling family traditions and, effectively, giving everyone the opportunity to say their goodbyes. Touchingly played by Susan Tracy, Mary drifts in and out of the real world, rejecting her medication and scouring the room to find the remote to control an imaginary television. At one moment she is alert and vital, at the next she stares vacantly into space and imagines herself to be Queen of the Underworld. As Gene, Martin Wimbush dons a Santa hat and shows us a man who remains outwardly strong, but is beset by growing frailty and fearful of his inevitable fate. The couple’s last wish is to complete their lives with dignity. The family is already fractured, with the two children having lived apart from their parents for many years, rarely communicating with them and never with each other. Robert (Cory English) is boorish, argumentative and absorbed with the failures in his own life; Melissa (Lisa Caruccio Came) is a shallow, pot-smoking new-ager. They are an irritating and unsympathetic pair, which poses problems for the middle section of the play, when it is difficult to accept that they are genuinely concerned about their parents’ dilemma. However, when the story moves towards family reconciliation and the healing of old wounds, we warm to them much more. Kautzman’s writing is stronger on mystical imagery than on the natural language of everyday life, but he tackles serious themes without ever being heavy-handed or too earnest. Holly Seager’s set is an old fashioned oblong living room with a Christmas tree hanging upside down in one corner. The audience forms each of the two long walls of the room, giving the production a feeling of intimacy that it perfect for this moving and truthful little play.

Performance date: 19 June 2014

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