The Theatreguide.London Review
Of Perfect Sleep
Finborough Theatre Summer 2014
Kevin Kautzman's drama, here given a world premiere after several American workshops, is a thesis play, whose purpose is to argue a position.
It has most of the strengths – clarity, focus, earnestness – and weaknesses – one-dimensional characters, lack of dramatic reality – of the genre, and is ultimately more successful as argument than as drama.
The subject is death – what it is, whether to fear it, how to face it, and who owns it. An elderly couple address the knowledge that she is succumbing to dementia and he has only months to live by deciding to choose the time and means of their departure, but are not prepared for their adult children's inability to accept this as calmly as they.
The playwright clearly stakes out his own sympathies and position quite early on and then has little to add for the rest of the play's ninety minutes.
The four characters are defined and individualised only far enough to make them symbols or mouthpieces for debating positions, and remain static and (until an ending marked by a little mysticism and a lot of sentimentality) essentially unchanging.
The mother is a former researcher in ancient folklore, and her episodes of dementia are an amalgam of mythic visits to the Underworld. The father is given no real identity beyond an emotional inexpressiveness which allows his son to blame all his own failures on lack of love and to see the suicide pact as one more abandonment. And only to provide a counterpoint to him the daughter is made an ageing hippie whose calmer acceptance of her parents' choice is fuelled as much by cannabis as Zen.
One strength a play of this sort could have, of intense and clarifying focus on the issue, is somewhat dissipated as the playwright is distracted by an unearned sympathy for the least interesting of the four characters, whose pains merely seem trivial and irrelevant in the context of the real story.
A dedicated cast – Susan Tracy, Martin Wimbush, Cory English and Lisa Caruccio Came – work very hard to create real characters out of the stick figures in the script.
Review - Dream of Perfect Sleep - Finborough Theatre 2014
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