By Kathleen Dimmick
By Marie Irene Fornes
46 Walker St.
Box office: (212) 868-4444
Artistic Director Daniel Aukin has mounted
a most engaging premiere production of Maria Irene Fornes's 1968
play Molly's Dream at Soho Rep. A fantasia with songs
on the nature of attraction, it combines theatrical elements familiar
from Fornes's other plays--short, disjunctive scenes, "interruptions"
in text and production, role transformation, and interpolated
songs--to create a mordantly unique look at love, dependency,
repulsion and sexual need.
Molly, a waitress in a bar, reads a magazine
aloud and glimpses a Young Man who appears briefly at the swinging
doors and then abruptly disappears. She falls asleep, and dreams
the subsequent play (much as Bottom dreams his romantic episode
with Titania). The Young Man, now Jim, glowingly attractive and
all in white, returns. He is accompanied by five Hanging Women,
who are quite literally attached to him as a kind of compound
female appendage. This chorus of five women orbits him like a
cloud of electrons. Molly, too, falls for him, but he says he
simply can't take on any more women: "I can hardly walk as it
is. I can't play baseball." John, a big cowboy covered in guns,
enters and orders a Bloody Mary, but Molly ignores him. Then Jim
finally succumbs to Molly's stolid desire, and she insists on
an exclusive association, demanding that he send the other women
away. He refuses, claiming that he's "indebted to them" and doesn't
want to hurt their feelings. Now the rejected lover, Molly transforms
herself into Marlene Dietrich, hat, accent and all, provokes Jim's
desire, and seizes the role of rejecter for herself.
In Part II of this intermission-less work,
Molly orders absinthe, Jim and John drink rye, play cards and
arm wrestle, and a Shirley Temple-ish girl-woman named Alberta
enters (played by the delightful Toi Perkins), singing and tap-dancing.
Mack, the bartender, orders her out, as she's a child, but John
is smitten and sings a love aria, "One very long, very narrow,
idea." Jim complains that John isn't even real, but Alberta (who
says she's actually 27 years old) responds: "I still like him
better than you. Even if he's not real." In a series of transformations,
John becomes Dracula and sinks his teeth into Alberta, who becomes
a glamorous lady in an evening gown. They sing a love duet, and
John becomes Superman, whereupon the two exit in a formal wedding
procession, ushered out by the Hanging Women.
In the end, Jim and Molly attempt to reconcile,
but it's no good. They sing of reduced expectations and existential
disappointment in a downbeat little song about their "sense of
incompletion." As Molly removes her Dietrich hat, they promise
to wait for one another, implying another, possible chance for
love in the future. But maybe not. Jim leaves, and Molly resumes
her original sleeping position from the beginning of the play.
The Young Man (formerly Jim) then re-enters, orders a drink, looks
at Molly, and exits. Molly wakes and looks at the place where
the Young Man sat, as the lights fade out.
Molly's Dream is among Fornes's
early works, coming a few years after Promenade and The
Successful Life of Three, both from 1965, and well before
her later, better-known works, such as Fefu and her Friends
(1977), Mud (1983) and Abingdon Square (1987).
As such, it's both more fragmented and more self-consciously theatrical
than the finely spare, or comparatively realistic, later pieces.
Her decided interest in songs, role playing and "quoting"-- of
Marlene Dietrich, Shirley Temple, and western film iconography--all
contribute to an ornate theatrics, even though Molly's Dream
certainly shares thematic concerns with all Fornes's works: the
identity and status of women in a male universe, the necessity
of a moral education, and the peculiar vagaries of love.
this production, Aukin has transformed the space at Soho Rep,
re-orientating it to create a long horizontal playing area with
three rows of steeply banked bleachers. The long wooden bar dominates
the stage, and three musicians (piano, violin and guitar) are
revealed at the far end. Aukin and set designer Louisa Thompson
have created an evocative environment that recalls the long tradition
of the American bar play from Saroyan to O'Neill, while also establishing
(with the help of Marcus Doshi's lighting) the surrealistic quality
essential to the play's dream frame.
As a director, Aukin often plays with the
idea of time, experimenting with a variety of rhythms on stage--from
slowed-down time, usually in the interstices of the text, to speeded-up
time, usually with the text itself. For example, in Quincy Long's
The Year of the Baby (2000), Aukin extended the transitions
between scenes, creating risky "real time" rhythms while setting
several of the surrounding monologues at rapid-fire tempo. He
added similar movement "riffs" to Mac Wellman's Cat's-Paw
(2000). With Molly's Dream, Aukin's rhythmic experiments
continue. The opening movement of the play, for example, signals
that Aukin is going to take his time, as Molly sets up the bar
at a studied pace, but then the pacing changes. These experiments
aren't always successful, particularly when it comes to the hard,
theatrical reality of the songs. It's a delicate matter to achieve
the right rhythmic balance of music to spoken text given the number
of songs Fornes has included in this relatively short play. Composed
by Maury Loeb for this production, the songs are engaging, well-performed,
and feel mostly appropriate to the play's flattened, downbeat
sensibility. However, several of them go on too long (despite
David Neumann's inventive choreography) weighing down the light,
evanescent quality of the words, which would seem to invite music
that functions more tonally, providing character accents rather
than extended production numbers.
Similarly, the text calls for abrupt lighting
shifts to indicate important changes for the characters. Fornes
uses such moments of interruption in many of her plays: the tableau
freezes in Mud; the isolated "acting" gestures in The
Successful Life of Three; the card-flipping gesture in Tango
Palace. These Brecht-like interruptions stop the dramatic
momentum and allow the audience, in a sort of literalization of
the Pinter pause, to reflect on the process of human consciousness,
on how thought occurs in the theater. These are some of Fornes's
most profound moments, as her theatrical program has always involved
a meditation on the acquisition of knowledge—how human beings
learn, how they develop, how they, quite literally, expand their
minds. As part of the larger play of time in the theater, these
interruptions likewise require a delicate balancing act from a
director, and Aukin does not always seem in control of these moments:
what happens when the lights shift, how do we understand these
"show-stopping" moments, how do we "read" the moment of consciousness
that is taking place?
That said, the production remains visually
rewarding, and the performances are mostly strong. A slight problem
occurs with Molly's transformation into Marlene Dietrich. As the
actress Bo Corre already speaks with a continental accent, her
transformation into Dietrich loses some distinction and resonance.
Patrick Boll as cowboy John acquits himself handsomely as both
singer and iconic western bar presence. Louisa Thompson, as costume
designer, creates a wonderful conceit for the Hanging Women, who
enter in transparent raincoats, translucent appendages to Jim's
body. It's an evocative image of women as a flock of wings--both
the burden that weighs man down and the association that may allow
him to soar.
Aukin has performed a genuine service by
resurrecting Molly's Dream (which previously received
only a workshop production in New York, directed by the author).
Fornes's light, even whimsical touch on the nature of desire and
attraction, rendered here through her open dramaturgy of song
and the rhythmic play of movement and stillness, is strongly realized
by Aukin's imaginative production.
[Kathleen Dimmick works as a director,
dramaturg, and teacher. This fall she will teach theater at Bennington