A Nightmarish Dinner Party Kicks Off ‘Dreams of Flying Dreams of Falling’
By Isa Goldberg / Chief Theater Critic
In the elegant formal dining room of the Cabot’s opulent Connecticut home, the dinner party that unfolds is as savage an affair as one can find, even in an Adam Rapp play. His latest, “Dreams of Flying Dreams of Falling,” transplants scenes of insufferable depravity from his familiar venues – a squalid cabin in the backwoods (“Ghosts in the Cottonwoods”), a roadside motel room where the blood squirts around like ketchup (“Animals and Plants”), or a seedy East Village apartment inhabited by naked men (“Finer Nobler Gases”).
In fact, the irrational brutality that pervades in “Dreams of Flying” is enough to make one feel that Rapp may have arrived at the root of it all: the denizens of the rich and privileged from which modern society springs, flailing constantly. All of this is delivered, of course, with a certain penchant for comedy. Within minutes of the play’s opening, Sandra Cabot (Christine Lahti) seduces her husband’s dear old friend, Dirk (Cotter Smith) and shares her plot to rid herself of her husband with such brazen candor, that it all becomes simply risible. Regardless of the fact that her villainy would rival the likes of Clytemnestra and Lucrezia Borgia, Sandra’s character is far from mythic, as she is just too obviously stereotypical and totally lacking in depth. Lahti mines the character’s one-dimensionality shamelessly.
As her husband Bertram, Reed Birney, is as banal as he is soft hearted and endearing. And Katherine Waterston portrays their Harvard educated daughter Cora, whose disaffection from society erupts into contemptuous remarks immediately upon greeting her parent’s affluent friends, The Von Stofenbergs – Dirk, Celeste and their son, James (Shane McRae) who has returned home after convalescing from a suicide attempt. Between dinner courses the two bewildered youths act out a scene of vigorous fornication atop the dining room table. (In an Adam Rapp play, this is predictable fare.)
As Dirk’s wife, Betsy Aidem conveys a sense of the character’s insignificance. Cotter Smith, an actor typically cast in the role of the “rugged butch,” portrays a more nuanced character here. His Dirk actually transforms, demonstrating a selflessness of spirit that is truly redeeming. And Quincy Tyler Bernstine delivers an understated performance as the black maid who, ironically, brings a sense of reason to the irrationality and cruel behaviors that abound. Many of those behaviors have parallels in nature, as when Cora compares survival in the wilderness with today’s Ponzi scheme con artists. In describing how the crocodiles devour the wildebeest in the Sudan, she tells Dirk, “You’re one of the lucky ones, Mr. Von Stofenberg. And now everything’s all funny with the money…And all those wonderful foundations had to close.”
At other times nature is the enemy, or alternately the victim of mankind’s ambition. Unfortunately, the symbolism and the ongoing metaphors run amok, detracting from the situation and the characters.
What remains transfixing in Neil Pepe’s production is Rapp’s clever dialogue and the bizarre behaviors that accompany it. Andrew Boyce’s and Takeshi Kata’s design of the Cabot’s suburban home is simply classic, as though it were a scene in a staid drawing room drama. Of course, there is never anything staid in an Adam Rapp play, although there is a great deal that is simply gratuitous.
“Dreams of Falling Dreams of Flying” runs through October 30th at Classic Stage Company,136 East 13th Street. For a schedule of performances visit www.atlantictheater.org or call 212-645-1242.