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Dreamless Land

Julia Jarcho's artily fractured play makes it hard for audiences to connect the narrative dots.

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Richard Toth and Jenny Seastone Stern
in Dreamless Land
(© Michael Schmelling)
Such is the human hunger for story that we'll connect the dots even where lacking. But in the artily fractured Dreamless Land, at the Abrons Arts Center, playwright/director Julia Jarcho takes pains to thwart that impulse.

Jason Simms's handsome set -- just a wooden platform with banquette, set into the Abron Arts Center's clamshell of raw concrete -- establishes the minimalist parameters in effect. The focal point is a white cube encased in Plexiglas. Changing colors as the context demands, it will stand in for various media and machines, when not serving simply as a table.

We know that we're starting somewhere in childhood, because Haley (wide-eyed Jenny Seastone Stern) is lugging a teddy bear, and Morton (Ben Williams) sports a propeller beanie. Through the filter of Haley's imagination (presumably), we see Morton's idyll of a suburban childhood morph into a horror flick, after his father, Carver (Richard Toth), loses his temper. Later that night, in bed with Morton's excuse-making mother, Joyce (Linda Mancini), Carver's hand takes on a life of its own -- a classic movie trope -- and goes for her throat.

Fast-forward to adolescence. Haley and Morton are playing Guitar Hero, while discussing his upcoming trip to Las Vegas to visit his estranged father, who has "connections." In a James Bond-themed fantasy, Haley imagines a role for herself as guardian/spy; in this very literal-minded if not especially clever spoof, complete with theme-song soundtrack, Joyce hands down the assignment while stroking a plush shark.

Flipping to Vegas, Joyce is now a showgirl -- sporting a beaded bra over her regular clothes -- on a date with a boastful, magnanimous Carver. Haley (present only in her imagination, presumably) chimes in from time to time as this dalliance takes a turn for true romance.

But there's no time to linger: Suddenly Haley is 25 (she announces as much), working for Joyce -- a quirky boss, if ever there was one -- and living with Martin (not Morton, though a reappearing Carver, accosting him in a diner, keeps calling him that).

Martin is jobless -- Williams's readings of abortive cover letters are a high point of the play -- and the couple comfort themselves by reciting narrative passages from a favorite documentary on Newfoundland, where Martin half-seriously suggests that they relocate.

There's yet another spy-tinged caper in store, but by this point, audience patience may be wearing thin, given what appears to be a directorial mandate of flattened affect. Each of the actors occasionally lets a glimpse of mischief shine through (especially Mancini), and Toth gets to let loose late in the play with a monologue that touches on the panic of a father fighting the love he feels for his child.
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