Wit, wisdom from this ‘Dreamer’

Bowman Wright and Miriam Hyman in “The Dreamer Examines His Pillow.’’ Bowman Wright and Miriam Hyman in “The Dreamer Examines His Pillow.’’ (Danny Kurtz)
By Sandy MacDonald
Globe Correspondent / August 22, 2009

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LENOX - What fledgling director doesn’t dream of unearthing some obscure script by a celebrated writer? With John Patrick Shanley’s “The Dreamer Examines His Pillow,’’ a one-act from 1986, Tod Randolph has hit the jackpot.

Initial reviews of this three-hander, written before “Moonstruck’’ and long before “Doubt’’ earned a Pulitzer, sneered at its jejune verbosity: “It is decidedly lacking in visual and visceral imagery,’’ lamented Mel Gussow in The New York Times.

Well, no more. In her directorial debut, Randolph, a 13-year veteran of the Shakespeare & Company troupe, has beefed up Shanley’s free-flowing, high-flying text with physicality to spare. She is aided by a trio of extraordinarily talented African-American actors, standing in for Shanley’s usual home-team cast of working-class Irish-Americans from the Bronx. The transition works so seamlessly, the script would seem written to order.

Donna (the hypnotically kinetic Miriam Hyman) bursts into the dive apartment of ex-boyfriend Tommy (Bowman Wright), ablaze with furious indignation. It’s not enough that Tommy has turned into a low-life, stooping so far as to steal from his mother (“I didn’t choose to - I was compulsed,’’ is his lame excuse). Following their breakup, he has taken up with Donna’s 16-year-old sister. She reads him the riot act, demanding that, at the very least, he start accepting ownership of his actions.

Donna’s arguments toward this end are worthy of a vernacular Portia. Resplendent with hostility, Hyman dances around her opponent with a bantamweight’s wary grace. When Donna succumbs, at times, to her recidivist desire for this ultimate bad boy, Hyman transforms into another woman entirely: lush, receptive, irresistibly enthralled.

This altered state serves as preview to the extraordinary testament she later offers her father (John Douglas Thompson) about the transcendental power of good sex. Such a discussion might seem an unlikely event in an ordinary household, but she and Dad, a stalled artist who was once quite successful, have been estranged for years, over what Donna perceives as her father’s callous mistreatment of her late mother. Now, fearing that she is duplicating her mother’s path, Donna returns to the source for corroboration. At her Dad’s insistence, she boils her confusion and frustration down to three key questions - like “a friggin’ fairy tale.’’

You’ll be amazed at - and amused by - the offhand wit and deep, quirky wisdom that Donna’s father packs into his answers. His rationale for infidelity is so ingenious as to inspire awe (and perhaps imitation): He views it as a comparison study to test the strength of the primary bond. However, beneath his macho posturing, he is essentially a good man, as Donna is forced to acknowledge, and his resurrected concern for his daughter - “Big tough girl!’’ he praises her, a teasing snap to the arm with each syllable - revives his sense of human connection.

Cue the magical-realist happy ending, and head off tickled and dazzled, albeit - like Donna, her father, and her misbehaving beloved alike - incurably confused.


Directed by: Tod Randolph. Set, Christian Schmitt. Lights, Greg Solomon. Costumes, Lena Sands.

At Shakespeare & Company, through Sept. 6. Tickets: $12-$48. 413-637-3353,

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