by SOPHIE KERMAN
Dreamless Land is a slippery bit of theater. Characters grow up unexpectedly, the genre shifts from “realism” to dream to science fiction to spy movie, and the viewer is never quite sure whether the actors are playing different sides of the same character or different characters altogether. A glowing cube (designed by Liz Josheff with Gary Johnson) changes color in mesmerizing ways that may or may not have anything to do with the narrative shape-shifting going on around it.
If the play were structured a little more like poetry, it might be easier to find a thematic thread that would allow all these disparate elements to hang together. As it is, Julia Jarcho‘s script has just enough narrative that we want to look for cohesion where, it seems, there isn’t meant to be any. 15-year-old Haley’s friend Morton is heading to Las Vegas to meet his father Carver; Haley’s boss Joyce sends her on some sort of spy mission to intercept Carver before Morton – or is it Martin now? – gets there; she fails in her mission, but suffers no consequences. Within this loose framework, we see bits and pieces of several different characters who seem tethered to nothing more than that fascinating colored box.
Some really fine performances come through, despite being limited by their fragmentary characters. As Haley, Susanne Stahlmann plays each one of her roles with intense commitment, and Bruce Abas‘s Carver is a terrifying case study in the many different degrees of creepiness. Mark Benzel and Miriam Must are given less interesting material to work with in their roles as Morton/Martin and Joyce, but also play their parts well.
What keeps the play from hanging together is a combination of its loose-knit structure and a line delivery that is just plain odd. The actors hardly ever actually speak their lines to each other; the lack of eye contact makes each character into an island, dissolving any sense of relationship or connection. (Similar reviews of the play’s 2011 production in New York suggest that this direction was given by the playwright, not by Red Eye director Steve Busa.) The strange diagonal sight lines are nowhere more noticeable than during a scene in which Carver hits on a cocktail waitress at a Vegas bar. Full of double entendres and innuendo, the dialogue nevertheless comes across as flat and off-putting when the two flirtatious characters never look at or touch one another.
Dreamless Land is a highly conceptual piece that won’t be everyone’s cup of tea – it is the sort of play that throws words like “obstreperous” and “rapacious” in the middle of a casual dialogue and turns on the house lights for no apparent reason. It aims to be random and free-flowing in the way that dreams often are, but it has forgotten that what makes dreams so interesting is their heightened sense of reality and great emotional stakes. These unfortunate dream characters move together through the ether, but lack a dreamer’s vision to guide them in their travels.