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Not Only Sleeping

Lucia Mauro reviews Beau O'Reilly's latest, presented by Curious Theatre Branch, an introspective fairy tale of love lost and hope harnessed.

By Chicago
A state of dream-awake:Not Only Sleeping
A state of dream-awake:
Not Only Sleeping
For a play described as "a comic meditation on sex and narcissism," Beau O'Reilly's latest work, Not Only Sleeping, is as deeply thoughtful, introspective, and self-effacing as one might expect. A fixture on Chicago's fringe theater scene, O'Reilly draws on Henry Miller and the Beats to craft a surreal series of musings on one man's search for true love. Despite the familiar nature of this quest, the road is paved with heart-wrenching conundrums and convolutions, all of which ultimately nudge the apathetic anti-hero toward self-illumination.

Not Only Sleeping, presented by Curious Theatre Branch through May 8 at the Lunar Cabaret, opens with O'Reilly as the lead character, Flagg, buried under a heap of sheets, simultaneously wailing over a recent break-up while jerking off to the tortured strains of Joni Mitchell. He is interrupted by the thunderous shouts and knocks of the Woman Down at the End of the Hall, a nightmarish image of a testy landlady in a bathrobe.

A dreamlike wandering begins as Flagg, a writer hooked on Henry Miller, revisits the hazy terrain of his past love affairs amid a series of current intrusions into his relatively fragile state of mind. Seemingly self-absorbed, Flagg also experiences frustrating moments of never being heard. His poetry-slam/dishwasher buddy, Mac (John Starrs), gives him free advice in free verse but also tends to talk about himself and his active libido. Mac, an old hippie married to Flagg's youthful ex-girlfriend, Daisy (Kat McJimsey), is both a source of annoyance as well as a seer who spins life lessons out of crossword-puzzle lingo.

At times, the play threatens to collapse in a heap of overly conscious experimentation; even Flagg, as played by O'Reilly, is often a mass of whiny self pity. The script, which O'Reilly has said began as a writing workshop exercise highlighting "a crabby narrative voice," could still undergo some nips and tucks to bring about a more compelling focus.

For example, Flagg's scenes with his ex-lover, Gloria (a centered Kathleen Powers) are overwritten with excruciatingly graphic ramblings about sex, manic depression and writer's block.

On the other hand, O'Reilly does succeed in his wickedly precise observations of humanity, particularly when we meet an operatic assortment of characters on a bus. Flagg also laments the loss of real diners with their "honey-sweet waitresses" and coffee shops invaded by "evil stockbrokers" engaged in conversations liberally peppered with "I." Some of the more clever scenes involve two kindly neighborhood ladies (Amy Warren and Martha Schoenberg) who emerge with their shopping bags from under Flagg's bed, and the chronic invasions of that Woman Down at the End of the Hall.

Interestingly and ironically, Flagg turns out to be one of the least self-absorbed characters among this colorful lot.

Director Hallie Gordon maintains a balance between grounded reality and absurdity, black comedy and bathos. Paul Leisen's off-kilter, garret-like scenic design, accompanied by his ghostly lighting, endows this production with a Kafka-esque edge. Other engaging performances are delivered by McJimsey as the ever-optimistic Daisy, Starrs in an honest turn as Mac, and Schoenberg as the ethereal lady of Flagg's daydreams.

Not Only Sleeping reflects on a string of events that can change one man's outlook. Flagg's character embodies the male ego, crushed over the fact that his girlfriend had the audacity to leave him. Lonely and directionless, he flings himself back into past relationships only to realize that letting go is the key to his emotional freedom. In the end, his wallowing in delusional self-gratification is transformed into a kind of inner peace. In the end, while Flagg may waver in his goals or commitments, he also learns that he is indeed capable of unveiling the love that got buried by his own foolishness and disappointment.


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