John Patrick Shanley
Pros: A clever and deeply poetic script from a master playwright. Some very nice acting too.
Cons: I struggled to keep focussed during the first half as the performances didn’t deliver enough energy to meet the requirements of the script.
Our Verdict: This is an uneven production with a slow-moving and occasionally uninteresting first half. However, it then bursts into life after the interval, engaging the audience right to the end.
The Dreamer Examines his Pillow is the fourth stage play written by world-famous writer John Patrick Shanley. Over the years, Shanley has become a creative force to be reckoned with, writing world-famous scripts such as Moonstruck (for which he won an Academy Award) and Alive (a hugely successful survival drama). He also wrote and directed Doubt starring Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman in 2008, which was nominated for five Oscars. Although I found The Dreamer Examines his Pillow to be funny, insightful and thought-provoking, past reviews have not been so favourable, with one critic renaming it ‘The Artist Examines his Navel’. This play has often been accused of blatant narcissism, misogyny and artistic self-indulgence. However, although I agree that it doesn’t reach the high standard of his later works, Shanley’s play is delicately poetic and his characterisations demonstrate huge promise.
The play opens in deadbeat artist Tommy’s flat which is in a bad state of disrepair and almost entirely unfurnished. Tommy sits gaping at the TV screen as his girlfriend Donna knocks impatiently at the door. Donna has just found out that Tommy has been cheating on her with her 16 year-old sister, Mona. Although Tommy’s defence is completely pathetic, there is something strangely likable about his character which keeps him from being the obvious bad guy. He is very emotionally stunted and his lying, womanising ways are steeped in a deep fear of getting hurt rather than a deliberate attempt to hurt Donna. Tommy is played by Kieran Moloney who does well both with the US accent and with the loser vibe of the character. However, the performance is far too low-key to be truly effective on stage and I found myself regularly losing interest in him and his problems. Stacie Bono is far more engaging as Donna and I found her monologues to be truly heartbreaking. Her love for Tommy felt very real to me and I found myself liking her for the truth of her performance rather than just the nature of her character.
The first half of the production felt a little bland overall and I lost focus many times. The chemistry between the two was a little hit-and-miss and the dialogue felt somewhat rushed in places. The lighting and sound worked a treat in creating a dingy atmosphere and complimented the set brilliantly. The scene changes were swift and smooth and a few minor but very clever alterations made the settings feel very different from one another. Likewise the 1980’s costumes were realistic and in keeping with each of the characters.
After the interval, the set changed from Tommy’s dingy flat to a more luxurious-looking apartment with throws, elegant lamps and a decanter of brandy. Donna’s Dad sits in an armchair in a very ‘Dad’ dressing gown with his socked feet tucked into his slippers. Although Jason Will is clearly too fresh-faced to really be Donna’s Dad, I found his performance to be so convincing that I forgot all about this minor casting issue. His performance was the highlight of the show for me and I enjoyed every minute of his high-energy, pompous musings and strangely philosophic life advice. Similarly, he worked very well with Stacie Bono with both of them portraying a deeply complex father-daughter relationship to great effect.
This is certainly an enjoyable evening, though this is mostly due to the second half of the show. Jason Will is given some great gags and through his energetic delivery and infectious humour, he manages to steal the show. Well done to Lightning Jar Theatre Company for choosing a play by John Patrick Shanley. It is a shame that his brilliant work isn’t performed more regularly so hopefully this is the first of many shows to explore his work.
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The Dreamer Examines his Pillow runs at the Old Red Lion Theatre until 16th February 2013.
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