This was my first time seeing John Patrick Shanley’s The Dreamer Examines His Pillow – this production directed by Eva Barrie for JR Theatre Company – and I wasn’t familiar with the play at all. Written around the same time as Shanley’s Savage in Limbo, Dreamer touches on some similar themes: love, desire, life – and the crazy-making nature of it all.
When I step inside the theatre at The Box Theatre, located in an old warehouse on Niagara Street, the first thing that strikes me is the pre-show soundtrack. Surreal, dream-like spoken word – sometimes barely distinguishable – accompanied by a percussion-driven back beat. Then, the space itself. The 45-some seats are set up in four rows along the length of the playing space, two on each side. This will be an up-close and intimate experience. The painting that hangs at one end of the sparsely furnished space – child-like and linear, an orange face on a grey background – reminds me of Denise Savage’s dream monologue in Savage in Limbo, during which she’s peeled away her face like it was tissue, leaving a piece of “flat grey cardboard where (her) face had been.” We later learn that this is a self-portrait of Tommy. The whitewashed brick walls of the playing area are curtained floor to ceiling with plastic, bringing to mind an artist’s studio. Or a serial killer’s lair.
Dreamer thrums in the space between visceral and cerebral, primal and evolved, profane and divine – and the storytelling style shifts between real and surreal, art and life, dreaming and waking. And the cast of Yehuda Fisher (Tommy, also co-producer with Rifkin), Scott McCulloch (Dad) and Jada Rifkin (Donna) are up for the challenge.
Performing with guts, passion and the drive of philosophers seeking the answer to the mystery of the universe, the actors dive into the dynamics of boyfriend/girlfriend, father/daughter and father/daughter’s boyfriend with courage and honesty. The play is broken into a series of mostly two-handers, each character struggling with messy but vital relationships, and with his/her own sense of identity. The father/daughter scene is particularly moving and revealing, bringing us to the core of the play. Men and women, and the primal drive to connect, to create – and how we are all changed in the process, our former selves torn apart and transformed into something new. We are drawn into love by an unstoppable desire that drags us kicking and screaming – and, to a large extent, with our consent.
I was very happy to have seen this show on Valentine’s Day, which also happened to be the Friday before the Family Day long weekend. It reminded me of how much relationships can play on a razor’s edge, so fragile and complex and fierce at the same time – and the brutal honesty and nurturing that love requires.
You have two more chances to see JR Theatre’s production of The Dreamer Examines His Pillow: tonight (Sat, Feb 15) at 8 p.m. and tomorrow (Sun, Feb 16) at 2 p.m. Tonight may be sold out, so best to book ahead in order to avoid disappointment.