On Friday, March 16th, a company called Tattooed Potato showed its first public face at Flashpoint. Although they are not there yet, this group could easily evolve into yet another iconic local troupe. Their style is incipient, but distinctive. Watch for them.
Under the guidance of producer/ director John-Michael MacDonald, the company goes big. Mostly, it’s well executed, but the play itself is a bit of a mess.
Entitled The Nightmare Dreamer, this imaginative drama combines fantasy, psychology, and a bit of metaphysics. Through the magic of stagecraft, the small performance space is converted into an eerie, dreamlike state, where spectators—often needing to move their feet to avoid tripping the actors—are presented with such ponderous questions as: why do we have nightmares? Why do they so often recur? Do we need them?
The Nightmare Dreamer was workshopped in January, and judging by the cast’s post-show comments, the play took a very different form than this month’s show. Conceived a year or so ago by MacDonald, the story and dialogue are mostly a creation of the seven person cast; no playwright credit is listed in the show’s bill. This play is a collaborative effort, and still has some of the shapelessness that sometimes defines these projects.
Whatever is added or subtracted in future performances, I am certain that the cast can handle it. Consisting of Sara Barker, Genna Davidson, Josh Drew, Gwen Grastorf, John Milosich, Michael Rodriguez, and Randy Snight, they are a whirlwind of dramatic and physical energy. I truly wish I could give a more concise account of each performance. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to tell exactly who played who in this show. Except for Milosich, each member of the ensemble plays a bevy of unnamed characters. In one vertiginous scene, the half dozen actors pass by the motionless Milosich as a nonstop rush of humanity, making minor off-stage costume changes and reappearing onstage in a matter of seconds.
This play is a self-set trap for the cast. Not only does it test dramatic range, but it also wrings out their physical and visual prowess. Extreme poses, stage falls, pantomime, and yes, acrobatics come into play. Like I said, the kitchen sink.
At the center is Milosich. He plays the Nightmare Dreamer, a man with a very special power. He can take anyone’s nightmare away by dreaming it for them. The play begins with three nightmares, followed by the appearance of the Nightmare dreamer. Just when you think the earlier scene will be repeated, he steps in and takes the horror for them. Milosich is excellent at capturing the exact emotional tenor his cast mates had portrayed earlier as they were buried alive or had their guts ripped out.
But his gift is in fact a curse. Haunted by one experience in particular, the Nightmare Dreamer finds his worst nightmares are occurring while he is awake, and it is becoming harder to sleep. Is there any way he can break this curse?
Unfortunately, The Nightmare Dreamer is burdened with a lot of clutter that seems to cater to the whims of the cast more than the needs of the play. There are a number of visually beautiful scenes in the middle that might be excised for the sake of a cleaner story and in the later scenes the story loses its form, and staggers to its conclusion.
Make no mistakes, The Nightmare Dreamer is a more than worthy play, produced by a talented and ambitious company in the process of finding its bearings.
The Nightmare Dreamer runs thru April 7, 2012 at Flashpoint Gallery, Mead Theatre, 916 G Street NW, Washington, DC.
The Nightmare Dreamer
Conceived by John-Michael MacDonald; Created by the ensemble
Produced by John-Michael MacDonald and John Milosich for Tattooed Potato and Gino Tessara for Spotlight Communicaciones
Directed by John-Michael MacDonald
Reviewed by Steve Hallex
Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes with no intermission