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the dreamer examines his pillow

A strong cast struggles in this revival of an over-written, problematic play that has a paucity of action by the acclaimed idiosyncratic author. 

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Dennis Parlato and Lauren Nicole Cipoletti in a scene from John Patrick Shanley’s “the dreamer examines his pillow” (Photo credit: Natalie Artemyeff)

Dennis Parlato and Lauren Nicole Cipoletti in a scene from John Patrick Shanley’s “the dreamer examines his pillow” (Photo credit: Natalie Artemyeff)

[avatar user=”Darryl Reilly” size=”96″ align=”left” ] Darryl Reilly, Critic[/avatar]
What a shithole.

I call it “Home.”

How long you lived here now?

Four months.

This place got bugs?


Do you got bugs?

I don’t know.

You used to be clean, Tommy.

Yeah, well. That’s the way I used to be. This is the new me. 

Donna, a fiery young woman in her 20’s is at the gritty basement New York City room of her 27 year-old artist ex-boyfriend Tommy. She is there to confront him about his affair with her 16 year-old sister Mona in the opening scene of John Patrick Shanley’s early play the dreamer examines his pillow.

The two argue and replay the chaotic events of their relationship. The second scene is between Donna and her artist father, Dad, at his apartment where the two relive their troubled relationship and discuss her romantic situation.  The third and final scene takes place back at Tommy’s room where the three express themselves extravagantly and everything is resolved.

This play originally opened Off-Broadway in October 1986, and ran for 40 performances.  The next year the film Moonstruck was released for which Mr. Shanley would win The Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay.  Previously, in the early to mid-1980’s, he had several critically regarded plays produced Off-Broadway, and in 2005, Doubt won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, The Tony Award for Best Play, as well awards from other theatrical organizations.

The Attic Theater Company is now very faithfully reviving this early work at The Flea Theater.  The production totally follows the script’s stage directions.  Donna wears “a black dress with a few white polka dots.”  Dad is “wrapped in a huge, very soft, old red chamois robe.”The scene transitions are characterized by “Primal drums start beating simultaneous with a blackout.”  Everything described is meticulously followed and yet the results grow stultifying.

Like most of the other of the author’s works, the three characters here are very colorful individuals who histrionically clash with each other while verbosely explaining their feelings and motivations.  As entertaining, funny, and thoughtful as these often quite lengthy exchanges are, they’re unable to compensate for a lack real action or suspense over the course of the three scenes lasting 90 minutes and becomes wearying.  Though similar in structure and themes to many of his successful other works, the dreamer examines his pillow is not as satisfying.

Lauren Nicole Cipoletti as Donna has the challenging task of appearing in most of the play.  She winningly sustains vocal volume, emotional intensity, and comic timing, as well as an authentic New York City outer borough accent.  Ms. Cipoletti exudes all of the sensuality, tempestuousness, and emotional fragility of the character with her forceful characterization and rich performance.

Shane Patrick Kearns and Lauren Nicole Cipoletti in a scene from John Patrick Shanley’s “the dreamer examines his pillow” (Photo credit: Natalie Artemyeff)

Shane Patrick Kearns and Lauren Nicole Cipoletti in a scene from John Patrick Shanley’s “the dreamer examines his pillow” (Photo credit: Natalie Artemyeff)

The mature and lithe Dennis Parlato gives a sly and pitch-perfect portrayal as Dad.  Veering from low-key and reflective, to explosive, Mr. Parlato is outstanding.  That he actually looks like a Bohemian artist with his regal mane of white hair and goatee, adds even more depth to his very fine acting qualities.

Scruffy, starry-eyed and boyish, the very charming Shane Patrick Kearns wonderfully captures the volatility and aching romantic sensibility of the young artist Tommy.  The chemistry between Mr. Kearns and Ms. Cipoletti is very evident and together they convey all of the intended passion and sensitivity of their characters.  He is also hilarious and touching while delivering eloquent monologues to an old refrigerator.

Working with such a problematic script, director Laura Braza does an excellent job of theatrically realizing the play with brisk pacing, inspired physical staging, and sharp work with the actors.

The contained, boxy and appropriately detailed settings are highly crafted by scenic designer Julia Noulin-Merat. Costume designer Lauren Gaston has vibrantly recreated the character’s clothing as the author intended.  David Upton’s lighting design is artfully purposeful. All of the moody entr’acte music is well coordinated by sound designer Beth Lake.

This first official revival of the dreamer examines his pillow is a fitfully compelling event, nobly demonstrating that despite the characteristically ravishing writing, this early work by John Patrick Shanley is an imperfect literary curio.

The marvelously cryptic title comes from one of Dad’s fanciful ruminations: 

…I went ta the bed, and I looked at the pillow. There was a dent there where my head had been. And I thought, never put your head in that hole again. That’s when I stopped paintin.


the dreamer examines his pillow (through August 15, 2015)

The Attic Theater Company

The Flea Theater, 41 White Street, in Manhattan

For tickets, call 866-811-4111 or visit

Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission

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