Sometimes, if you’re lucky, theatre lulls you into a sense of silly, charming fun—then warps your brain, makes you squirm, and spits you out in less than 40 minutes. In a Day of Dreary is one of those plays.
This is not to say this creative blend of movement, music, and masks is mind-blowing exactly. In fact, it follows a surprisingly conventional day-in-the-life narrative about a surprisingly conventional young woman, the titular Dreary. What is surprising about the production is the way surreality seeps into the corners of Dreary’s humdrum life, accosting her lackluster birthday with nightmarishly theatrical embodiments of her unconscious.
Dreary’s day is told via flashback, opening with her reluctant participation in a hypnotism performance, conducted by the affably inept Guy Ragan (who later returns to embody another flashback character with exaggerated charm). Although the wall-breaking first scene takes some time to warm up and set the production’s uncomfortably humorous tone, it introduces the story’s ever-increasing blend of real and bizarre. And in this scene, if the smarmy hypnotist is the real, the bizarre is certainly the chorus of four players, each of whom dons a warped, bone-white mask.
By far the chorus, the most consistently creepy element of the production, sculpts the landscape of Dreary’s memory, from outlining walls and doors to morphing themselves into furniture (Sam Schanwald plays a strikingly endearing refrigerator) to personifying Metro-goers, office workers, even individual characters. They move through a series of astoundingly clever choreography, using mime and movement in gasp-inspiringly unique ways. The most stand-out ensemble cameo comes from Henry Ragan (also the play’s creator) as Dreary’s guffawing boyfriend, and the team is rounded out by Erin Sweeney and Liana Quiñones. Their eerily clownish antics are underscored by an ethereal musical landscape, composed by Maxwell Denney and performed by Denney (guitar) and Jeremy Paral (flute)..
In a Day of Dreary
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Madeline Grey DeFreece as Dreary navigates her less-than-real reality with Alice-like wonder and bewilderment. In a delicious riff on dramatic irony, Dreary is semi-aware of the otherworldly strangeness in her otherwise monotonous day, and recognizes particularly disruptive moments of terror with real-world fear; it is the audience, however, that connects the surreal puzzle pieces to discover what this blend of memory and subconscious fear really means
Some of the puzzle pieces are a bit too abstract even for this dive into the unconscious mind, and result in head-scratching moments rather than trust that the strangeness will unravel itself. Dreary’s departure from the present begins, for instance, with the introduction of a puppet doppelganger, a character that ends up serving in the play’s most disturbing twist, but fails to convincingly imbue itself in the rest of the narrative.
Although the dialogue is not particularly imaginative, and the storyline occasionally veers from Dreary’s storyline into moments of stagnant atmosphere-creation, this is ultimately a clever, surprising twist on a memory play. The story strikes a careful balance between the strange and the relatable, even making subtle commentary on life in the District (including the pompous boys’ club at Dreary’s office and her awkward interaction with a strange old woman on her hiccupping metro commute).
Although In a Day of Dreary is taglined “a horror play,” it lives more in the world of subtle unease, an upside-down reality that stays grounded enough to lull its audience before skyrocketing into nonsense and absurdity. There are moments of terror, certainly, but Dreary’s day evolves with plodding strangeness rather than a sense that it will erupt in chaos and horror—more of an Alice in Wonderland rabbit hole than an adrenaline-inducing horror story.
Even when the intention behind its storytelling is a tad confused, this play manages to bewilder and amuse with the utmost creativity and charm. Dreary elevates the absurdist-subconscious-exploration genre by using some of the most clever, minimalist storytelling devices imaginable—in this reality, anyway.
In a Day of Dreary. Creator: Henry Ragan. Cast: Madeline Grey DeFreece, Guy Ragan, Henry Ragan, Erin Sweeney, Sam Schanwald, Liana Quiñones. Music: Maxwell Denney (Composer, Guitarist), Jeremy Paral (Flute). Designers: Roxy June (Lighting Designer), Hilda LeStrange (Graphics Designer). Stage Manager: uncredited . Produced by Henry Ragan . Reviewed by Maegan Clearwood.