Dream of Perfect Sleep (a new play by Kevin Kautzman) is an imaginative study on how adult children deal with death and the imminent loss of aging loved ones. Director Max Pappenheim takes this new American family drama – in its world premiere – and layers it with great mythology and fantasy, while still allowing the words and actors to shine through. The dialogue at times is weak, especially in the beginning quarter, but the cast makes up for an at times obvious script.
Mary (played by Susan Tracy) is the matriarch of the family, a once prominent scholar who suffers from vertigo. She is plagued by dementia, going in and out of lucidity. Mary is losing agency in her own life, told when take to take pills, when to sleep, when to sit. Her husband Gene (played by Martin Wimbush) is her carer, although he is facing his own illness and old age. But his love for Mary shines through all the while, even describing his wife as his “light”.
Gene invites his grown children Robert and Melissa (played by Cory English and Lisa Caruccio Came, respectively) to return home to celebrate one last Christmas with their ailing parents. The only thing is this is the middle of summer and the Christmas tree is hung upside down. As Robert puts it, “Random Christmas is ridiculous”. But, Gene he will do anything to bring happiness to his ill wife, even if that means staging ‘random Christmas’ much to his son’s chagrin.
For the grown children, it is a very painful experience to witness how much their parents have aged. Both Melissa and Robert are dysfunctional adults struggling to find their footing outside the protection of their childhood home. But, whereas Melissa celebrates her parents’ venerability, Robert cannot grant them agency to make decisions of life and death in their old age. Melissa, who is made magnanimous and invigorating by Came, plays her brother’s foil. She is a free spirited bohemian, whilst her brother is a highly-strung recovering addict. Melissa so beautifully argues, “Robert, there’s a reason most cultures revere the old: they have one foot in the infinite. That scares people, because most people are frightened little children.”
The story is moving and the questions Kautzman asks of death and aging are resounding. While the passion can get lost in lines that are sometimes contrived and weak, this engaging quartet offers up a refreshing family dynamic. The production is captivating, and there is a brilliant plot twist that is unsettling yet extremely moving, which you will want to witness.
Dream of Perfect Sleep is playing at the Finborough until 12 July. For more information and tickets, see the Finborough Theatre website.