Christine Lahti and Reed Birney in
Dreams of Flying Dreams of Falling
(© Kevin Thomas Garcia)
Christine Lahti and Reed Birney in
Dreams of Flying Dreams of Falling
(© Kevin Thomas Garcia)
There's a heavy dose of symbolism in Adam Rapp's oddly compelling new play, Dreams of Flying Dreams of Falling, being presented by the Atlantic Theater Company at Classic Stage Company's East 13th Street Theatre. And while certain of the play's passages come across as a little too heavy-handed, there's plenty of meaty dialogue and bizarre interactions for director Neil Pepe and his talented cast -- led by the superb Christine Lahti -- to dig into.

Set in the dining room of a wealthy Caucasian family in Connecticut (tastefully realized by set designers Andrew Boyce and Takeshi Kata), the play begins as Dr. Bertram Cabot (Reed Birney) and wife Sandra (Lahti) are playing host to their friend, Dirk Von Stofenberg (Cotter Smith), a businessman who has managed to come out unscathed from the recent financial crisis.

Their superficial chatter only barely conceals the marital discord between the Cabots, and Sandra's flirtation with Dirk grows increasingly obvious. In a scene reminiscent of Macbeth, she enlists the reluctant Dirk to take part in her scheme to murder her husband. The Shakespearean references don't stop there; two of the Bard's sonnets pop up during the course of the play as well.

Lahti revels in her portrayal of the tough, acerbic Sandra and is given some of the script's best lines. Birney does a fine job as her milquetoast husband, who seems eager to please and just as eager to avoid confrontation. Smith smoothly conveys Dirk's shifting moods, and is particularly good at non-verbally communicating his bewilderment in regards to the strange goings-on in the Cabot household, and then acting as normally as possible once his sweet-natured wife Celeste (Betsy Aidem) arrives.

The production also includes excellent turns from Katherine Waterston as the Cabot's reclusive daughter, Cora, and Shane McRae, as the Von Stofenberg's mentally unbalanced son, James. The two actors engage in one of the funniest onstage sex scenes I've ever seen, made even more hilarious by the presence of the Cabot's African-American maid, Wilma (the delightful Quincy Tyler Bernstine), who frantically tries to keep them from breaking anything.

The script contains references to a number of bizarre portents, such as the sky turning a strange color, cows huddling together in possible conspiracy, and wild geese crashing into the side of the Cabot's house. Such details help to establish the play's off-kilter sensibility, but some of the playwright's imagery -- particularly in the final scene -- feels excessive.

More effective is the play's combination of elegant lyricism with a sharply satiric edge. "We live in a brutal world of often marginal consequences," says Sandra at one point in the script. This seems to perfectly encapsulate the worldview that Rapp is expressing, as the playwright exposes the savagery perpetrated by his over-privileged white characters, who often seem to escape accountability.