Theatre review: The Dreamer Examines His Pillow at the Old Red Lion Theatre

PUBLISHED: 10:25 29 January 2013 | UPDATED: 10:25 29 January 2013

The Dreamer Examines his Pillow at the Old Red Lion Theatre. Picture: Claude Girardi

The Dreamer Examines his Pillow at the Old Red Lion Theatre. Picture: Claude Girardi


Three characters collide, questioning the meaning of love, sex and responsibility, in John Patrick Shanley’s drama at the Old Red Lion Theatre

A sparsely furnished flat: a refrigerator; armchair, with recumbent young man; a monstrous self-portrait; stacked televisions; crackling electricity.

The young man, Tommy – it soon transpires – is a bad ‘un: he’s dumped his girlfriend, slept with her 16-year-old sister, stolen from his own mother.

In the play’s first half, Donna, said ex-girlfriend, calls at Tommy’s flat; and she isn’t happy!

In the second half, we meet Donna’s father, the eponymous dreamer, a retired artist whose early life mirrors Tommy’s – and who may hold the key to the young lovers’ predicament. It’s the collisions of these three characters that drive the play.

The squat tins of Budweiser the actors imbibe signal the Bronx of 1983, where John Patrick Shanley set the play. But for this and the American accents, we might easily be in recession-struck Islington.

The issues are enduring. Why do we fall in love? What matters most – sex or companionship? How well do we know ourselves? How much of our identity should we protect and how much share with others? Are we responsible for our own actions?

Or can they be chalked up to heredity or the world around us? (As Tommy says, “The world threw a bucket of glass in my face, but I never got the joke.”)

These are just some of the questions posed by this play. It doesn’t answer them, but it gets you thinking.

With only three characters, the performances of the actors make or break this play. Kieran Moloney as Tommy (with Colin Farrell-ish swagger) adds essential likeability to the rogue. Stacie Bono creates a complex central character: at different times tough, endearing, and whiney. And Jason Wills, as dad, adds both comedy and menace. All are the most eloquent of drop-outs. This is a play for the angst-ridden teen in all of us. Until February 16.

* The Dreamer Examines His Pillow is at the Old Red Lion Theatre in St John Street, EC1, until February 16. Tickets £14 or £12 concessions. Call box office on 0844 412 4307.

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