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martes, 1 de septiembre de 2009

For the Pain of Love, a Cerebral Bath of Words, Words, Words

Published: August 31, 2009
LENOX, Mass. — John Douglas Thompson is being hit with a double whammy by that old devil called love this summer. As often as five times a week this strapping actor is asked by the repertory troupe Shakespeare & Company to demonstrate how even the strongest men can be felled by fatal attractions.

Danny Kurtz
John Douglas Thompson and Miriam Hyman as father and daughter in “The Dreamer Examines His Pillow.”
Theater: Farewell the Tranquil Mind: Othello’s Noble Passion Is Also His Curse (August 9, 2008)
Times Topics: John Patrick Shanley
Danny Kurtz
Bowman Wright and Miriam Hyman in this early John Patrick Shanley play.
Saturday found him being slowly torn to pieces by sexual jealousy at the Founders’ Theater in the title role of “Othello,” a part he played here last season and then recreated in a production for Theater for a New Audience in New York, picking up much acclaim and assorted trophies. On Sunday, at the smaller Elayne P. Bernstein Theater here, Mr. Thompson could be heard unhappily recalling how finding the perfect bedmate destroyed his life.
That was in another title role, in "The Dreamer Examines His Pillow," a comedy of anguish by John Patrick Shanley from 1985. I am happy to report that the character identified only as Dad in “Dreamer” is not the heavy lifting that Othello is. Fluidly directed by Tod Randolph, this production is only 90 minutes long. And Mr. Thompson is required neither to fall to the ground in an epileptic seizure nor to strangle anyone.
He is called upon once again, however, to speak in an elaborate, densely poetic manner seldom heard outside a theater. Perhaps partly from having lived so long with Shakespeare’s Venetian general, he makes Mr. Shanley’s baroque talk seem as natural as breathing.
So, it should be said, do Mr. Thompson’s young co-stars, Miriam Hyman and Bowman Wright, and that’s no easy task. “The Dreamer Examines His Pillow” is not one of the more audience-friendly works by Mr. Shanley, the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning drama "Doubt" and the Oscar-winning screenplay for "Moonstruck."
A more convoluted and static variation on the themes of his breakout play “Danny and the Deep Blue Sea” (1983), “Dreamer” is far less well known. The play is basically three unhappy people exchanging metaphors about the fear that comes with loving too much. As thick with whimsy as it is with misery, “Dreamer” shares some of the cloyingly obsessive spirit that made “Romantic Poetry,” Mr. Shanley’s recent musical (with the composer Henry Krieger), such a trial.
But there are rewards in watching talented interpreters turn muddy poetry into flowing prose. Ms. Randolph has said that she wanted to direct “Dreamer” since she saw a scene from it in an acting class 23 years ago, and you can see why. It’s an extreme example of what good acting is often said to be about: externalizing the internal. You can imagine the intense, soul-searching rehearsals that must go into any production of it.
Even in performance, the play feels a bit like group therapy. Like much of Mr. Shanley’s early work, “Dreamer” considers the impossibility and inescapability of love, or the state of hormonal intoxication that we call love. You can’t live with it, but without it life is meaningless. That, anyway, is the conclusion arrived at by the play’s three characters: Tommy (Mr. Wright) and Donna (Ms. Hyman), an on-and-off couple who make both love and war like wild animals, and Donna’s father (Mr. Thompson), an artist paralyzed by memories of a similar relationship.
The play is structured as a series of confrontational conversations. Having heard that Tommy is seeing her younger sister, Donna seeks him out in his squalid hole of an apartment, where his search for identity has reduced him to communing with his refrigerator. They argue, they grapple, they kiss, they part. And they resolve nothing. So Donna visits her dad, whom she hasn’t seen in months, to figure out why she is the way she is.
In the play’s final scene Dad talks to Tommy, at Donna’s behest. Nothing is resolved then either. It is Mr. Shanley’s point that nothing is ever resolved in life, and all we can do is make the best of an eternally unconcluded bargain. Along the way to this revelation there is much talk of caves of the unconscious and the wilder frontiers of sex. (Music that evokes tribal rituals in the jungle is heard between scenes.)
Though the subjects are visceral, the tone is dizzyingly cerebral, and I shudder to imagine how “Dreamer” might be with a less grounded cast. But you never feel that in portraying people who are straining for clarity, the performers here are strained themselves. Mr. Wright unflinchingly finds the aggression in Tommy’s leaden passivity. And Ms. Hyman’s excellent exasperated Donna becomes the audience’s essential point of connection as she wanders with steady tread through Mr. Shanley’s labyrinth of passion.
Nobody chews up the scenery, in other words, including Mr. Thompson. If his fiery Othello is a man flailing amid the chaos of love gone bad, his character in “Dreamer” is someone who has survived that chaos and is now fingering the scars it left behind. Mr. Thompson doesn’t fall prey to the natural temptation of acting out what his character remembers. The dynamic of his performance is in the energy Dad expends in trying to keep a distance from past torments as he describes them.
Repertory is a wonderful thing, isn’t it? It allows an actor like Mr. Thompson the relief of moving from the in-the-moment passion of “Othello” to the recollected passion of “Dreamer.” And it allows theatergoers the treat of seeing an admirable performer confidently shift keys from blazing fury to quiet contemplation.
By John Patrick Shanley; directed by Tod Randolph; sets by Christian Schmitt; lighting by Greg Solomon; costumes by Lena Sands; sound by Michael Pfeiffer; stage manager, Bryanna Meloni. Presented by Shakespeare & Company, Tony Simotes, artistic director; Tina Packer, founding artistic director. At the Elayne P. Bernstein Theater, 70 Kemble Street, Lenox, Mass.; (413) 637-3353. Through Sept. 6. Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes.
WITH: Miriam Hyman (Donna), John Douglas Thompson (Dad) and Bowman Wright (Tommy).

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