Saturday, April 09, 2011


FEVER/DREAM mildly off-setting at CPT

FEVER/DREAM, now on stage at Cleveland Public Theatre is an appropriate show for our time. It skewers corporate America while addressing the dreams and realities of these uneasy economic times.

Woolly Mammoth, one of my favorite theatres in the Washington, DC area, is to DC what Cleveland Public Theatre is to our area. It willingly takes on message plays not normally produced and puts them on stage. It is, therefore, appropriate that WM did the first production of Sheila Callaghan’s FEVER/DREAM.

Callahan, a New York based writer, is part of the Regional Alternative Theatre movement of the 1990s. The writers are noted for their bizarre use of language and using storytelling structures in developing their works. Callaghan's writing has been described as "comically engaging,” “subversively penetrating,” "completely contemporary,” and "downright weird.” If you see FEVER/DREAM, you will quickly become aware of these qualities, especially the “downright weird” description.

FEVER/DREAM is a reinvention of Pedro Calderón de la Barca's 1635 play, LIFE IS A DREAM. Calderón wrote of the human situation and the mystery of life while stressing the difference between free will and fate.

The contemporary script centers on Segis Basil, an employee at an American mega-corporation who is literally chained to his desk in the basement of a huge skyscraper, answering customer service questions on the telephone. Unknown to Segis, he is the son of the company’s all powerful CEO. Segis, we find out, was born on Black Monday, the day of a famous stock market crash, and his mother died in childbirth. This, of course, leads his superstitious father to lock Segis away. (Remember the description of Callahan’s writing as being “weird’?) The father decides that he needs to step down as CEO and places his son in charge. Of course, the uninformed dolt fails. He is returned to his basement hell.

Okay, that’s enough, you’ll have to see the play to experience the unreal fairy tale ending.

The CPT production is creatively directed by Beth Wood, but needs more oomph. Unfortunately, not all of the actors are up to the stylish demands of the script. On the positive side, Christian Prentice is believable in both of his Sergis personas: the chained up customer service phone answerer in his basement hell and the floundering newly appointed CEO. Annie Hickey is a hoot as the temp from heaven, who follows each of her directives as if they are words from on-high. The robotic Associates, Margo Chervony, Melissa Crum, Stuart Hoffman and especially the rad Val Kozlenko, are total delights.

On the other hand, as the two heir apparents to the CEO throne, Nathan Ramos (Aston) seems lost and Laurel Johnson (Stella) feigns a character. The rest of cast is acceptable, but fail to ignite Callahan’s bizarre language.

Trad Burns lighting is excellent. His set design generally sets the right tone, but the second level crawl space is a little off-putting. Richard Ingraham’s sound effects work well.

Capsule judgement: FEVER/DREAM will not be on my list as the best productions of the year, but it is a thought provoking piece.