Pros: Funny, macabre, heart-wrenching and a tad reminiscent of a Jonathan Franzen novel.
Cons: Often a little strained and laboured.
Middle class neurosis and the handling of class crisis have made for much fodder in contemporary theatre. Kevin Kautzman’s play about an American elderly couple who wish to end their own lives and their children who will inevitably deal with the fallout is sweet, sombre and heart-wrenching. The idea was explored in Chris Chibnall’s Kiss Me Like You Mean It a few years ago at the Soho Theatre, minus the children part of the story.
There are some bright one liners and grand emotional truths in Kautzman’s script. However, on the preview night I went to see the production, the whole things felt a bit disjointed. Props were dropped, lines occasionally fluffed, pace lagging. On the other hand this is what previews are for; to iron out these parts of a show that stop the audience from suspending their disbelief.
Lisa Caruccio Came is amusing as the new-age and benevolent adopted daughter Melissa. Cory English, as the exasperated, ex-addict son Robert, is affable, although occasionally unable to see things for they really are. Martin Wimbush is unremitting as Gene, a man persistent to end his life on his own terms. Susan Tracy, as the mother who is slowly losing her mind, is moving and sympathetic. Pappenheim’s direction is very clear and economical. Clearly aware of the big questions the play raises, he manages to steer clear of getting caught up in their vastness and present this play as the funny and absurd family drama that it is.
The Finborough is a fitting stage for Dream of Perfect Sleep. The action of the play centres in the family living room which the theatre’s tiny dimensions are perfectly suited to illustrate. Holly Seager’s set consists of an upside down Christmas tree, a well-loved old couch and a side table, which also feel like characters in the play. Although, the design element that struck me was the varied use of sound in what is essentially a family drama. Angus MacRae’s original compositions are menacing and sometimes just plain creepy.
The dilemma Kautzman poses is very topical. How do we deal with an ageing population? How do we help those with dementia? How do we plan for their dignified deaths? It is unreasonable to think a 90 minute play is able to provide these answers. And yet I found myself wanting a better solution than the one proposed by the script. I don’t get the feeling however that Kautzman shied away from exploring other possible outcomes, rather I felt that to do so just simply wasn’t his intended purpose.
It’s the kind of play that reads very well and one that I could see making the transition from stage to screen. There are some scenes that took me back to the play August: Osage County. Yet for the most part this is a play that seeks to tug at your heartstrings and not overburden you with guilt and scenes of familial dysfunction. Kautzman’s purpose, I think, here is to simply tell the story of an elderly couple still in love and wanting to preserve the last shreds of dignity they have.
Directed by: Max Pappenheim
Written by: Kevin Kautzman
Booking Until: 12 July 2014
Box Office: 0844 847 1652
Booking Link: http://www.ticketweb.co.uk/venue/finborough-theatre-tickets/FINBOROERD/905