Stevie Ray Dallimore and Ben Hollandsworth
in Dreams of the Washer King
(© Erik Pearson)
Stevie Ray Dallimore and Ben Hollandsworth
in Dreams of the Washer King
(© Erik Pearson)
Christopher Wall's emotionally delicate and melancholy play, Dreams of the Washer King, now at the Cherry Lane Studio, is a work that flaunts its theatricality, effectively using its lighting and sound design (by Traci Kaliner and Charles Coes, respectively) to underscore its time-bending intentions. One ultimately wishes the storytelling were in service to a better story, but there's still much to admire in Wall's writing and the work of a talented cast.

The play begins with our meeting a lonely and desperate mother named Claire (Carla Harting), and her unhappy son, Ryan (Ben Hollandsworth). Moving in down the street is a violent widower named Wade (Stevie Ray Dallimore) and his attractive, soulful young daughter Elsie (Reyna de Courcy).

At first, it seems like the play might be a dual love story in which both the older couple and the younger couple ultimately find happiness. As much as some of the characters in the play would wish it so, there are reasons why this simply cannot be.

Wall has gone to such great lengths to complicate the ultimately simple (and not completely compelling) story by having us often witness scenes that are taking place at once in two different time dimensions. For instance, we see Wade getting ready to go out on a date with Claire, except he's wearing orange prison clothes over which he is tying his tie. Are we witnessing his past or his future? You won't know until the end. What you will know is that you're not in a wholly realistic play.

Director Giovanna Sardelli makes the most of set designer David Newell's necessarily overcrowded set that overlaps the interior of two homes and a field where abandoned washing machines have been dumped. It's in this latter location that young Ryan and Elsie fall in love and where their story -- and the play -- finally end.

Wall has a particular gift for line-writing -- he gives his characters some wonderful things to say -- and many of his actors do a smashing job of making those lines come alive. In particular, de Courcy is winsomely winning as Elsie, Harting is heartbreakingly real as Claire, and Hollandsworth grounds the restless Ryan with a fundamental honesty.