Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Almost Asleep"

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note: entire contents copyright 2006 by Larry Stark

"Almost Asleep"

By Julie Hebert
Directed by Steve Rotolo

Set & Costume Design by Loann West
Lighting Design by Duncan McCulloch, Steve Rotolo
Sound Design by Steve Rotolo
Producers Steve Rotolo, John Peitso, Jennifer Johnson
Stage Manager Dirk De Pageter

The Chatterer.....Susan Gross
The Sleeper....Becca A. Lewis
The Dreamer.....Wendy Nystrom
The Fool........Kristin Shoop
The Warrior........Loann West

Julie Hebert's "Almost Asleep" is the record of a white night --- a sleepless churning of streaming, unstoppable ideas and images dipping into and out of r.e.m. sleep. It is a mental monologue that she's broken into five voices that take center-stage or combine or disagree, often falling into chaotic choral babble in which no one voice is uppermost. It is the mind of a woman trying hard to forget or at least deal with the fact that two men battered and brutally raped her and, so far, got away with it. The playwright speaks from personal experience --- and she is artist enough to find laughter lacing through her pain. Luckily Director Steve Rotolo has found five vibrantly intense women who grab attention with gnawn fingernails and never let go.

The five start out intensely forcing themselves to sleep, trying to batter sleep out of their uncooperative pillows, until the pressure forces them to start up in bed and Say what's racing through their minds. The Chatterer (Susan Gross) starts, talks in order not to think, sets scenes, and lets slip by hints and subtexts and finally outbursts what is at the bottom of her mind. Her most compelling message is "I hate you! I hate your bones, your very marrow! I hate Myself!"

But The Sleeper (Becca A. Lewis) insists, in necessary self-defense, "But I Like my body!" --- the pretty body that excited the rapist? Probably.

There is no equivocation, though, in The Warrior (Loann West)--- she is all fight and fire, brandishing the sticks she wears strapped to her forearms like a ninja warrior, shouting her vindictive anger and eager to break bones and splatter blood, if only allowed a chance.

For The Fool (Kristin Shoop), all is denial. She dresses like a Commedia clown, swinging above ground in a loop of gauzy curtain out of it all, pretending she is happy.

It is The Dreamer (Wendy Nystrom) who refuses to participate in fantasies, who stands in the background, watching and listening and contradicting, and leading all five at play's end toward clear-eyed survival.

And yet, once or twice during the play, all five are terrified, shocked into panic-attack by the sound of footsteps --- real footsteps across the ceiling of the Charlestown Working Theatre --- that could be ... anyone. And that very fact, itself, is these women's problem. It Could be Anyone.

What makes this harrowing situation bearable, enjoyable, is the fact that every emotion flits into existence, yet pushes to the edge of the ridiculous. This is a perfect textbook-example of the term "comic relief" --- the point at which emotion and tension screw to such an extreme that only a giggle of defense can be the reaction. Maybe that giggle of defense was what allowed Julie Hebert to survive her own white-nights enough to write this short, stunning, funny drama.

(a k a larry stark)

Exactly one month before this play opened, a person named Jenna Scherer decided --- on reading the phrase in previews "a whispered opera of the mind" --- that Molasses Tank Productions had to be one of "Boston's thousands of fringe theatres out there ... making shit."
One Full Month before she saw the show; one full month before it even opened.
Now that Ed Seigel and Bill Marx have both retired from The GLOBE, little Jen has decided that someone has to take up the slack and shit on theater here in Boston until it all goes away and she is out of a job. Like them, she has her head wedged so far up her own ego everything she sees is babyshit-brown.
I have only one request of the free paper THE DIG (worth every damn cent):
Can you stop printing shit? Please?

"Almost Asleep" (5 - 21 October)
442 Bunker Hill Street , CHARLESTOWN MA

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide