Vivid Dreams with a Rude Awakening

06/23/2010 4:00 AM |

Dreams of the Washer King

Written by Christopher Wall
Directed by Giovanna Sardelli

Seems like for every new play about teens to thirtysomethings scrambling in the city, there's a reciprocal contingent of recent dramas set in dystopic suburbs and depressed rural areas, a Middle-American magical realist genre drawing the outline of a national identity near its poverty-stricken fringes. The nameless backwater in Christopher Wall's Dreams of the Washer King (through June 26) lies near one such ridge. At its base, Ryan (Ben Hollandsworth) and his mother Claire (Carla Harting) live in a ramshackle house that, somewhere between the table and the kitchen sink, dissolves into a field filled with abandoned washing machines (David Newell does wonders with the tiny black box stage). That's where Ryan and newcomer Elsie (the phenomenal Reyna de Courcy) hang out after school, while her father Wade (Stevie Ray Dallimore) and Claire pursue a parallel courtship. As the two youngsters grow closer—and further from their needy, reckless 'rents—scenes increasingly overlap, and mysterious creaks and cracks slip from every corner, like the first drops of a fast-approaching flood. Such doublings and cycles become refracted in Wall's increasingly fragmented narrative as it reaches a terrifying and crushing climax just before intermission.

The first half's tightly interwoven coming-of-age and melodrama plots are unfortunately marginalized during the latter hour. Here, Wall's overwrought machinations to orchestrate a final, Shyamalan-ian reveal (that most will have already figured out) detract from the growing dread and engrossing desperation of the excellent ensemble. The details of bleak lives at the edge get obscured by the how and why of the non-linear narrative, explanations that inevitably dull the device's impact. In the process we lose sight of a stylized yet sensitively filled-out rural milieu that felt like another character early on. Brilliant for the first hour, slightly faded thereafter, The Washer King is a rough cycle.

(photo credit: Erik Pearson)