The natural text is just a bit too intellectual to provoke much of a rave, but the pleasant thoughtfulness of the gender ideas raised by this play make for some relaxing theatergoing. The technical aspects need to be tighter so as to keep the focus on the center of the picture, rather than the frame, but those few patches that catch the light just so are a marvel to watch.
Reviewed by Aaron Riccio
One of the advantages a play has over a short story is that it has more room to develop slowly. So long as it hooks you before intermission, theater gets the benefit of the doubt. Dream of A Common Language has some serious flaws under Karen Sommers' direction, and the cast is a little shaky. Fortunately, a very attractive garden set (impressionist watercolors of a forest, surrounded by more realistic rock walls and ivy), a few strong roles (Suzanne Barbetta, for one), and the flowing dialog of playwright Heather McDonald manage to keep us around for the firmer second act.
But how well does Dream of a Common Language address the theme of 3Graces' new season, "second class citizens." The women of this show did not have the equality they desire in the artistic community, but they seem to live heartily even if it is sometimes heavy heartily. For those having trouble sympathizing with a rich but artistically repressed woman in 1873, read the following epigraph: "Acceptance on someone else's terms is worse than rejection." Dreams is more a thematic play than a dramatic play, and it's interesting to weigh the mission statement of the company with the natural interplay of history and intrigue throughout the show.
Dolores, a traveling gypsy who has flitted from any man who would ask her to stay to any man who would ask to her to leave, certainly seems content playing the housekeeper and eating her Hundreds and Thousands candies. Pola, a migratory artist, travels by bicycle, seeing the sites and experiencing the adventures of the world, and while she regrets the opportunities she was barred from, she lives a better life--makes a better living, in fact--than the miserable leads. And misery is certainly a relative thing: Victor and Clovis may have grown into a loveless marriage, fostered by a feminine son, the husband's unconscious chauvinism, and the wife's teetering sanity, but they're both trying. Clovis, in a pique from the lack of acceptance in a male dominated world, has burnt her paintings and given up on her beloved craft: but at the same time, her rejected painting was anonymously submitted; it wasn't reviewed poorly out of spite.
These characters serve well to make the various points of the play; the show even comes full circle to address the marital and sexual issues presented early on (and lost during the liberating Soprano's dinner party that serves as a lengthy catharsis and return to innocence). Where Dream of a Common Language disappoints are the various imbalances in direction. The choice to interrupt the realism (or underscored it) with a cellist and keyboardist playing through floating windows is a major problem, as are the obviously recorded offstage voices of other painters. Awareness of illusion distances us from the craft: focusing on the limits results in a loss of the piece's central beauty.
Despite the aesthetic distractions and some uneven accent work (along with some uneven acting), I found Dream of a Common Language to be an original and unforced display of art in the nineteenth century, and it certainly made me consider some of my fundamental beliefs of what constitutes equality. There's not enough action to make me rave, but the still beauty of nature leaves a lot for me to think about.
Hudson Guild Theater (441 West 26th Street)
Tickets (212-279-4100): $20.00
Performances: Monday, Thursday-Saturday @ 8; Sunday @ 3
According to Lincoln Center's new LCT3 project at its slogan, it takes "New Audiences for New Artists." It also takes new critics, hence the establishment of Theater Talk's New Theater Corps in 2005, a way for up-and-coming theater writers and eager new theatergoers to get exposure to the ever-growing theater scene in New York City. Writers for the New Theater Corps are given the opportunity to immerse themselves in the off-off and off-Broadway theater scene, learning and giving back high-quality reviews at the same time. Driven by a passion and love of the arts, the New Theater Corps aims to identify, support, and grow the arts community, one show and one person at a time.