Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The Dreamer Examines His Pillow by John Patrick Shanley

Scottie Thompson and Sal Landi

By Joe Straw

The Dreamer Examines His Pillow by John Patrick Shanley, directed and produced by Mark Blanchard, is now playing at the beautiful Hudson MainStage Theatre in Hollywood through October 29th, 2017.

Tommy (Ade M’Cormack) is a bit off. So off he doesn’t know if he is coming or going.  One thinks that he is mostly going. He is a juvenile in a man’s body, unwilling to make the heartiest of decisions about life.  What do you expect from an artist? Or, a wannabe artist who paints like a three-old with distorted figures and eyes that don’t quite match. Is it cubism? If so, he is a Picas, without the so.  And now he is down to his bare minimum, a work of art drawn in crayon, and that is something only an inebriated artist would truly enjoy.    

Funny thing, there’s no paint anywhere, or a brush for that matter.  His clothes spotted with holes do not have an ounce of paint on them. Maybe it’s poverty that prevents him from having art supplies, what with the rent being $1,200.00 a month and no visible means of support, except the money he steals from his mother.

But what he has got is his beer, lots of beer, in a small squared refrigeration unit. He thinks out loud now, holds his beer, and crushes the can before the contents are drained.  And, at the end of the drink, the can looks like a silly fragment, the afterlife of a hearty container that has succumbed to the deranged antics of an artist, the antichrist of beer etiquette.    

Donna (Scottie Thompson) bangs on the door, wants to be let in, and has some serious issues to discuss with him, most particularly she wants to know if he has been banging her sister, Mona (not seen).

He has, but it’s not really his fault, it’s the voices, the devil in him that is driving his mechanism to do things unjustly, and it’s really not his fault that Donna’s sister is sixteen years old, either.

Donna wants Tommy to promise that he won’t do it again.

“No.” - Tommy

Tommy is a certified winner (dripping sarcasm here), a keeper, and in a world with all kinds of mysterious diseases, this guy has the plague and should be avoided at all cost.

The problem is that Donna loves him (for those of you who have unwed daughters, roll eyes here), or maybe she doesn’t love him.  In any case, she is sitting on the fence and really needs to consult her estranged father (Sal Landi), another artist who has given up the brushes.

For some strange reason, and in her own way, Donna suddenly regards her Dad as a sage, a wise man in the face of all this disturbing news that she must face.  She tells Tommy that her dad will come back and beat him up as she walks out.  

But, Dad wants nothing to do with his daughter’s predicament.  He wishes her to figure it out. Don’t ask him any questions and he’ll tell you no lies.

John Patrick Shanley writes sentences that are as poetic as you can get.  It’s in all of his writing, in this outstanding comedy, and a slight divergence of the apache dance of Danny and The Deep Blue Sea.  And it is his words, lots and lots of words, that keep the characters moving in a meaningful direction and finally to the endpoint.

Scottie Thompson and Abe M'Cormack

Ade M’Cormack is outstanding as Tommy.  He is quantifiably in the moment, in the relationship, and very protective of his own worth.  The hand gestures pushing, pulling, and protecting his body is extremely effective. A beer in one hand trying to drown out the conscience noises that plague him, and the other hand covering his groin to keep them intact from his threating girlfriend and her father’s rage. He is a character, with his English accent that excels in the deceitful act of pettifogging. As an actor, M’Cormack is always watching, observing, and reacting to the conflict before him, finding out if what he is saying rings true to his immediate companion.  There is a lot here in his craft and it is outstanding.

Scottie Thompson

Scottie Thompson is a very angular actor as Donna, in the way that Tallulah Bankhead was angular.  Thompson has a very enticing look to go along with a very viable craft.  Donna is a character who has been done wrong, by her boyfriend who cheats on her and her father who is not really a father figure. Still, she needs her father’s help to get out of this predicament.  They don’t agree on much but she demands that her father take out this hoodlum, her boyfriend. One thinks there should be more of a backstory to this character, her job, her means of support, and the necessity of the argument that propels her in a direction that is in her heart.  Love is a good start and there must be more of that. And, does her costume (circa 1985) reflex the type of person she is?

Sal Landi is very funny as Dad. Landi brings a rich history to the role, and the backstory that is required in a Shanley role. His physical motions on stage are outstanding.  He is charming, witty, and manages to secure favor with everyone.  I’m not sure about his opening, passed out on the floor, and I think that could be improved. It shows us who he might be but does nothing to progress the scene.

Mark Blanchard directs and does reasonably well in some areas, and excellent in others.  The relationships are pleasing. We get boyfriend and disgruntled girlfriend, daughter and a disgruntled father, and father and disgruntled boyfriend.  Pleasing father with pugnacious instincts and daughter’s boyfriend aiming to wrap the whole thing up. Those relationships worked great and could not have been any better.

And then there is the action on stage, which amounted to getting a can of beer from the refrigerator and physically messing around on a deserted stage. (Limited set design by Aaron Lyons)   There is not much to work with.  Tommy throws his clothes on the couch and doesn’t bother to fold them. Donna calls the apartment “a sh*t hole” but does little to make it pleasing to her tastes.  Donna moves from one side of the stage to the other, at times without purpose.  One needs to move for a creative purpose. These are the moments when creativity kicks into high gear and movement on stage has a meaning that fits with the dialogue.  And, these moments need adjusting.

This production is an actor’s showcase and, as a showcase, it is superior in highlighting the work of the actors and director. With a few exceptions, I loved every moment of it.

One moment for a conscience stream of inner dialogue about Donna’s costume and other things. We’ve almost got the period, 1985, but what does the leather (or vinyl) top represents along with the modern heeled boots, the black belt, short jeans, and ripped leggings? She is not living in the streets. Does she wear that costume to entice her boyfriend?  Does it have any effect on him? (Didn’t see any of that on stage.)

She wants this man.  She has to figure out what the costume does for her, her character, and her relationship to the man she wants. An actor should try on multiple costumes to fill a creative need. With this artistic, creative, and intelligent character the sky is the limit. 

Also, she is a woman who appreciates and knows art, part of the art culture of New York.  How does her appreciation work in securing the man? Does he get it?  Does she see that he is getting it?

Michelle G. Stratton is an understudies Donna but did not perform the night I was there.

I loved the exuberance of the curtain call. Keep it.

Run! Run! Run!  And take an actor.  You’ll take so much more with you when the night ends.

Donny Jackson – Lighting Designer
Nick Machado – Sound Designer
Sandra Kuker PR – Publicist
Andrew Flores – Lighting and Sound Board Operator
Chika Nashiki – Production Stage Manager

The Hudson MainStage Theatre
6539 Santa Monica Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA  90038

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