Love be a lady

Cocaine Dreams

By Howard Pflanzer
Directed by Lissa Moira
Iron Horse Productions
Kraine Theater
Equity showcase (closed)
Review by John Chatterton

Howard Pflanzer, a self-confessed former cocaine addict, explores the joys and horrors of cocaine in this provocative but still-unsatisfying play. Man (Tim Tolen) is on the downhill slope of addiction, finding it increasingly difficult to maintain a normal life, especially when it comes to keeping his girlfriend (Andi Shrem) in his bed and happy. Prosaic scenes of domestic discontent alternate with flashbacks to incidents from the life of Freud (Richard A. O'Brien), himself a cocaine addict, and wild forays into the hallucinogenic. Where Freud is able to give up the drug once he realizes it is hurting him, it seems clear that Tolen's character will have to wade a lot deeper into the morass before he wakes up to the facts of his condition and quits.

The hallucinations and the characters from Freud's life make for over three dozen characters, including Ibsen, Edison, and Eleanor Duse (all of whom offer testimonials to the joys of the flaky white substance). The most important supporting character is Coca (Jill M. Simon), created by the director, a mute participant in all that goes on. She ranged from siren to vampire to succubus. Without this character, it appears that the play would have been a series of earnest dialogues between two addicts (Man and Freud) and their respective co-dependents, with hallucinatory flashes thrown in. The Coca character was problematic, though, because her various personae tended to repeat mechanically (with a lot of mugging), without developing dramatically, and her intrusions tended to slow down the dialogue even more. Perhaps the most successful through-line for Coca was as a vampire, for she ended up triumphant at Freud's deathbed when he asks for a final hotshot to put him out of the misery of cancer. (One of the most effective developments of the play occurred when Freud and the Man's worlds merged, and the two talked to each other.) The hallucinations, being rendered under what amounted to cabaret lighting with costumes created on an apparently short budget (Tammy McBride), tended more to the comic than the hallucinatory, with the effect that they raised some needed laughter but alienated the audience from the dramatic intensity of the moment. That dramatic intensity was also diluted by a uniformly broad style of acting, including thick Austrian dialect.

Moira theatricalized and enlivened what could have been a slow evening, especially with the in-character scene changes, of which there were many. (Since some of the hallucinatory scenes, like the one with Coca as a bride, made little sense, perhaps there were too many.) A wide variety of appropriate popular music covered the scene changes (the scenery comprised phantasmagoric flats, with a bed stage right and various set pieces -- notably a couch -- for Freud, stage left).

This play came across as a work in progress, in form more like a musical than a drama. Perhaps if the characters broke into song from time to time....

Also featuring Terri Galvin, Dennis Horvitz, Ivy Purdy, and Jonathan Reitzes. Scenic and lighting design, Kimo DeSean.

 Box Score:

Writing: 1
Directing: 1
Acting: 1
Set: 1
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2002 John Chatterton