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Review: 80s NYC psychological drama 'The Dreamer Examines His Pillow' - packs a punch

Lightning Jar Theatre Company presents the UK Premier of John Patrick Shanleys The Dreamer Examines his Pillow

A visceral exploration which packs a gut punch with uncomfortable, but authentic, insights into the human condition. It's 1983 in Reagon's America; Michael Jackson and the Police dominate the charts, and TV says money can buy happiness. But reality for most is far from rosy and everyone is looking for escape. The show opens with Tommy staring into a void in his dirty torrid apartment. Tommy, a twenty-something down-and-out is rather shallowly searching for the answers to life as he struggles through a sordid existential crisis. Enter ex-girlfriend Donna - hurt, vengeful, and incredibly pissed-off. Tommy has slept with her 16 year old sister Mona. Really one of the lowest of the low acts of infidelity. ‘How could you do that? Do you hate me?’ He looks rather narcissistically to the self-portrait for answers struggling for language and self expression as Donna desparately tries to establish if Tommy loves her and if he can be trusted.

Donna delivers a polished performance in her hurt trash doll character on a conflicted emotional journey to understand love and behaviour of men. Tommy is less convincing as the American dream 'down and out' character complete with the 1950s style white shirt and blue jeans. The play draws on cinematic influences of Lynch in animating inanimate objects (the fridge appears to talk to Tommy at one point). There is a touch of Hubert Selby Junior to the style of the dialogue with the poetic monologues.

The second act opens with Donna arriving at her fathers apartment. Donna's father is a rather sordid and vile character, having repeatedly cheated and abused her mother, and seemingly having no interest in his daughters. Although Donna tells Tommy she is going to ask her father to beat Tommy up, really Donna wants  answers to the questions why are men the way they are? And why do they treat women so badly?

The father takes a full journey from vile to resurrecting god like understanding of the situation. In the process reestablishes his connection to others. Donna is afraid she has turned into her mother but by the end it's clear she is much more like her father as his ability to manipulate and untangle the emotional turmoil of Tommy.

The actor playing the father delivers a complex character that though he is the most sordid of base humans in terms of behaviours you can't help but warm to him (and pity him?) as the second act progress' as you realise that his behaviour has been out of fear and inability to fully surrender into love and that despite his protestations he loves his daughter and loved his wife.

"Women are very concerned about bein' trapped - all women, or virtually, anyway. They worry about it, that’s been my experience. So what they do, a lot of 'em, to feel strong, they trap a man. They trap some guy in their dream. And then they feel trapped cause they gotta guard what they caught. At least let me say, this is what happened with me an' your mother. But there’s a certain universal here."

At the end of the father-daughter scene Donna hugs her father and says 'I just don't see a future' to which the father replies 'you can't see the future anyway so it's a very real feeling to have'. Donna's big fear is that she is turning into her mom, but it seems she is much more like her father, in that they are both psychological manipulators.

Tommy is visited by the dad dressed in a tux much to Tommy's bemusement. The father puts the fear in Tommy right away through his domineering and intense mind games. The father character really shines in this act and there are some great pieces of poetic dialogue. You could argue that it's the pot calling the kettle black but somehow through the process of interrogating Tommy, the father redeems himself and you are left feeling a glimmer of enlightenment.

The father character really makes the show which is well delivered, fast paced and enjoyable. Recommended!

Lightning Jar Theatre Company presents the UK Premier of John Patrick Shanleys The Dreamer Examines his Pillow
at the Old Red Lion Theatre, 418 St John Street, London EC1V 4NJ

Tuesday 22nd January to Saturday 16th February 2013
Tuesday to Saturday at 7:30pm
Matinees on Sundays at 3:00pm
Tickets £14.00 (£12.00 Conc.)
£10.00 Sundays and Pay What You Can Tuesdays Apply
Click here to book online or Call the box office on 0844 412 4307
Please note that booking fees apply.


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