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In My Dreams

Written and directed by Jeff Seabaugh
NativeAliens Theatre Collective
The Flatiron Playhouse
119 West 23rd St., Suite 305 (212/726-8891)
Equity showcase (closes Mar. 29)
Review by David Mackler

A lifetime is a lot of ground to cover, and while playwright Jeff Seabaugh's heartfelt play In My Dreams touches on enough incidents between mother and son to give life to the story of Jason (Frederick Hamilton) tending to his dying mother, Lee (Deborah Cresswell), it was director Seabaugh (assisted by Jennie Contuzzi) who gave the play its power with some dynamic staging.

Apparently drawn from real life (the production is "dedicated to the memory of Mary Lynn Seabaugh"), the play is filled with depictions of the nitty-gritty of dying that are achingly real, and a mixture of the love and resentment that highlights many child/parent relationships. With a combination of reportage (addressed directly to the audience) and flashback, scenes are shadowed by the specter of death when the characters don't have the knowledge that the audience does. So a scene where the son prefers to watch Breakfast at Tiffany's to playing outside becomes a bonding experience when the mother accedes to her child's request; at the same time she is shocked by the 11- year-old's explication of Holly Golightly's real profession. Did this really happen? Could it?

The answers, in order, are who knows? and yes. And that the audience believed it could have happened was directly the result of Cresswell's astonishing performance as Lee, a vain, self-centered, insecure force of nature whose charm nonetheless inspires adoration from her son, her doctor, and the audience. Lee's neediness and longing for approval are better-established when she picks an argument with Josh about her hair than when Jason speak of his distaste about her dating much younger men after his parents' divorce. She is, indeed, petty, infuriating, and charming, even as she is subjected to the indignities of life-saving treatments.

But while the play is ostensibly the son's forum, Seabaugh does better with other characters in the drama. In the waiting area outside the radiation rooms, Jason has an encounter with Rita (Jennifer J. Katz), and in this short scene, which began with her lighting up a cigarette, Katz made an indelible impression as a woman consumed with fear and anger and regret, and whose character succinctly summarizes survivor's conflict. And not the least of it was the (thankfully!) unspoken contradiction of demanding a cigarette while waiting for a cancer patient's treatment to finish.

While it is mentioned that this is Lee's third bout with cancer, and her second with melanoma, the immediate reality is more important to the play than recriminations (if only treatment started earlier --). There are still no easy answers, and most characters have a double edge to them. The family doctor (Eugene Brell) repeatedly yet unemotionally tells everyone how important Lee and her family are to him, which is infuriating even though it's probably a result of his ineffectiveness; and Lee's oncologist, Dr. Sanderson (Tyler Ashby Jones), is considerate even though he too has no answers. When Jason wonders whether Dr. Sanderson is coming on to him, it's a moment of humor, but it's shaded by Jason's need for reassurance that's not coming. As the author's stand-in, Hamilton had a harder time of it, but he rose to Cresswell's challenge in Jason's coming-out scene. The only unambiguous character was Lisa Gill as a warm, caring hostel attendant, which was just the right type of presence for that point of the play.

The play was well-produced, with Christian D. Cargill's set representative enough to be doctors' offices or an airport as needed (and the purple accents were eerily blood-like when blood becomes a plot point) but it is Mary Tarochione and Brian Murphy's lighting and Murphy's multi-media which truly set the tone. Video projections of home movies before the play began, and other specific films, complemented the action, often heightening impact (Lee's MRI experience was harrowing). Sound (designed by Seabaugh) was also important -- sometimes sentimental, sometimes distress-inducing sounds. While it was a bit of a cheat to use "Moon River" at the finale (to which mother and son dance), who could argue when the audience was wiping tears from their eyes?

Also with Luke Novak and Maureen Cantara as "attendants," who changed sets, costumes, and props with a ghostly precision.

Box Score:

Writing: 1
Directing: 2
Acting: 2
Sets: 1
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 2

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Copyright 2003 David Mackler