Dream of a Perfect Sleep at the Finborough Theatre
Gene and Mary are old – dying in fact. While Mary fights the onslaught of dementia, sporadically falling into fantasies of being a Sumerian fertility goddess, Gene is diagnosed with a terminal illness, shattering his hopes of being able to care for his wife. When they invite their estranged children, recovering addict Robert and New Age Melissa, for a Christmas reunion (despite the fact that it is only mid-June!) the couple deliver some startling news with grave implications for their children to come to terms with.
Dream of a Perfect Sleep marks American writer Kevin Kautzman’s UK debut. His work is sharp and witty, full of hard-hitting statements that speak volumes in a single sentence “What’s more frightening than death? Forgetting,” says Mary. Care homes – “they’re waiting rooms for the half-dead”, declares Melissa. Set in the confines of the family living room, the play’s realism, fraught family dynamics and gradual sense of mental decline mirror Eugene O’Neil’s troubled family dramas while Mary’s reveries into “The Underworld” drained of colour and light and full of monotonous drumming recall Arthur Miller’s symbolic techniques.
The cast are faultless, perfectly capturing the family’s fractured yet love-tinged relationships. Susan Tracy’s oscillations between lucidity and madness are expertly portrayed, rendering Mary’s dementia-ridden mind flawlessly. Martin Wimbush skilfully plays the bewildered, anxious husband in the midst of his own anguish and confusion, while Corey English and Lisa Caruccio Came adroitly tow the boundary between antipathy and affection in the wake of devastation.
Dementia is now at the forefront of medical discussion – we are all living longer and the threat of mental incapacity is a concern for all, yet the illness and its symptoms still remain largely a mystery. In many ways Kautzman fails to really address the dark issues of mental decline and looming mortality, as well as the burden of a parent’s decisions upon their children and the ethical implications of euthanasia. After a powerful, shocking beginning full of grave twists and surprises the play slowly unravels into a long thread of confusion as questions opened up at the start fail to be fully answered.
Kautzman has created a good family drama full of controversial issues surrounding dementia, ageing and mortality, yet with the introduction of these themes comes the burden of challenging audience perceptions and testing our assumptions; it is Kautzman’s failure to do this that ultimately lets down this well-rendered and well-written play.
Dream of a Perfect Sleep is at the Finborough Theatre until 12th July 2014. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.