Ben Hollandsworth as Ryan and Reyna de Courcy as Elsie in Dreams of the Washer King. Photo by Erik Pearson.
BOTTOM LINE: A heady show about death and a family's dark sins; it is for a thinking audience ready to deal with damaging and scary content, and it is done INCREDIBLY well.
Dreams of the Washer King starts off innocently enough and takes its time revealing what it's about. The set is built on and around old junky washing machines and, although the audience is told who the actual Washer King is, it's obvious later on that the four characters are each the ruler of their own attempts to cleanse themselves, their lives and the lives of those closest to them.
I don't want to give anything away; you really just have to see it. Let's just say it is dark, heavy, and a touch scary. It is not a show to which I would take an innocent youth. BUT! The performances (see below), the writing (see above), the set (an installation piece of the-other-side-of-the-tracks Americana), the sound design (pre-recorded scenes played back on an old reel-to-reel), the lighting (spray paint on a wall, dreamtime innocence, your parents' old kitchen), EVERYTHING moves you, as in everything that is executed is for the sole purpose of propelling the audience into feeling and gut-wrenching understanding; nothing is extraneous.
Carla Harting (Claire) reminds me a lot of Laura Linney: she's haltingly real and so connected at the core that she drew tears from me; I was so with her and concerned for her, even when she sat unmoving in a daze to the side of the stage while another scene occurred to the audience's right. Stevie Ray Dallimore (Wade), at first entrance, won me both in gravity of danger and depth of potential emotion, as if the dam holding everything back could break at a moment's notice. Reyna de Courcy (Elsie) broke my heart; her range of existence on-stage is breathtaking and she stole more tears from me as well. To be fair, I wasn't sure about her in the beginning, but when I realized what Elsie was hiding and the depths from which she protected herself and everyone in contact with her, I forgave the two-dimensionality of her first moments on-stage to the multi-layered armor it truly was. Ben Hollandsworth (Ryan) is a polished performer, but I would have liked to have seen more vulnerability and a quietness differing from his vibrant vocal quality, which came off as more mature bravado than I thought this 15 year-old was written to be. Still, like I said, a polished performer: Hollandsworth can turn on a dime and crafts moments incredibly well.
The designs all around are spot on, immensely beautiful and revealing. Again, I don't want to give too much away by talking about any of them. But forgive me one: the foreshadowing of the spray-painted monster on Elsie and Wade's wall (featured in the above photo) IS brilliant.
Just…go see it.
(Dreams of the Washer King plays at the Cherry Lane Studio, 38 Commerce Street, through June 26, 2010. Performances are Tuesdays through Fridays at 7pm, and Saturdays at 3pm and 7pm. Tickets are $20-$30 and can be reserved by calling 212-239-6200, or online at playwrightsrealm.org.)