It Will All Make Sense in the Morning opens like a nightmare, with a stunning projection of an ominous tree, followed by an off-kilter conversation about the perils of yard work that awakens a gurgling offstage worm monster. Although this opening promises 70 minutes of quick and uneasy oddities, however, the production never wholly taps into the terrors of the sleeping mind.
Erica Smith’s play focuses on Sparrow, a woman whose dreams have become so horrifying alive that she seeks the help of a potentially magical childhood friend to bury her unconscious terrors. The play’s structure alternates between reality and dreams, using the concept of unconscious fears as a clever metaphor for mental illness.
It is an ambitious concept, coupled with a script that is often stunningly beautiful. Smith’s blend of the magical and mundane culminates in a tone that is both ethereal and colloquial. It is a language and humor that echoes that of Sarah Ruhl, its characters delivering deceptively simple banter as they navigate a surreal magical landscape.
Unfortunately, the production fails to do the script much justice. Despite many moments for dry, non-sequitor humor, the performers wield Smith’s words with muddled attempts at realism and drama. This is certainly a story that veers into the realms of tragedy and horror, but the production focuses so entirely on the characters’ despair that it leaves little room for absurd contrast.
The performers are also hindered by the broadness of their characters. While the nightmare sequences are given plenty of artistic detail (the consumption of a blood-filled egg as a particularly memorable example), the lucid moments have few grounded elements. Sparrow’s nightmarish rabbit hole, for instance, is triggered by a breakup with her girlfriend, but we see so little of their relationship that it’s hard to understand what her demons really are. Reality has no specific time or place, and the story never delves into what makes Sparrow’s real world distinct from her dream world.
This distinction could have benefited from clearer design choices. The ethereal, chilling work by projection designer Eric Cline and sound designer Rich Frangiamore provide the surreal, nightmarish moments, but director Patrick Miller never harnesses these formidable artistic tools to his advantage. They do not provide much-needed indications of shifts in time or space (the play jumps forward as much as two years within subsequent scenes, for instance), nor do they delineate how Sparrow’s dreams feel on a visceral level. The messy blackout transitions are also a missed opportunity for imaginative storytelling; instead of creating a fluid liminal space or establishing how Sparrow’s two worlds connect, they hinder the narrative’s momentum.
It Will All Make Sense in the Morning
Written by Erica Smith
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The performances also fail to imbue the plot with any urgency. Rebecca Fischler as Sparrow and Jenny Oberholtzer as her ex-girlfriend Shanda don’t deliver their lines so much as mumble them. The potential humor and chemistry of their scenes is also lost through an awkward combination of Fischler’s drama-laden performance with Oberholtzer’s constant fishing for laughs. The most standout performance is from Erik Harrison as Alistair, although, to be fair, he has the advantage of playing the most interesting and nuanced backstory off of which to play. Interpreting his character as something of a manic pixie dream boy, Harrison’s comedic timing and subtle emotional depth offer a glimpse into how complex and interesting this play could be staged.
Ultimately, the production fails to answer some of the story’s most important questions: What are these unconscious demons that Sparrow desperately needs to excavate, and what makes her dream world so much more devastating than the average nightmare? For an excavation of the unconscious mind, It Will All Make Sense in the Morning is lacking in momentum or terror—and for a potentially illuminating script, it is a disappointingly lackluster theatrical journey.
It Will All Make Sense in the Morning. Playwright: Erica smith. Director: Patrick Miller. Cast: Jenny Oberholtzer, Rebecca Fischler, Smith, and Erik Harrison. Design: Projection Designer Eric Cline, Lighting Designer Colin Dieck, Sound Designer Rich Frangiamore.