Dreams of First Class Flight and Fall in Adam Rapp’s Latest

10/12/2011 4:00 AM |

Dreams of Flying Dreams of Falling
Written by Adam Rapp
Directed by Neil Pepe

“She’s just spoiled and bored and undersexed,” Sandra Cabot barks at her husband as they discuss their twentysomething live-at-home Harvard grad daughter Cora. “She’s a beautiful girl, and in addition to working she should be out there ruining men.” These generations’ mutual misunderstandings of one another aren’t only the subjects of Adam Rapp‘s new drama, Dreams of Flying Dreams of Falling (through October 30), but also provide its dichotomous structure.

There are practically two separate plays crammed into these 90 minutes, with characters from both age groups sharing the Cabots’ elegant Connecticut estate dining room but sequestered in their respective narratives: a sex farce-cum-murder plot for the olds, and a magical realist drama for the youths. In the latter, Cora (Katherine Waterston) struggles to reconnect with James (Shane McRae), whose recovery following an apparent suicide attempt is the occasion for the evening’s celebratory dinner. Meanwhile Cora’s vampy mother Sandra (the appropriately dominant Christine Lahti) is on track to ruin two men tonight: her sweet, soft husband Bertram (Reed Berney) and his longtime friend Dirk (Cotter Smith), James’s father. The Cabots’ black maidservant Wilma (the always excellent Quincy Tyler Bernstine) moves fluidly across Dreams‘s generational divide. Director Neil Pepe handles Rapp’s two-pronged structure adroitly. As the adults’ searing Wildean upper-class satire cools into something tinged with heartfelt sadness and regret, their kids’ awkward catching up literally climaxes in a sex scene so outrageous it earned a round of applause during the performance I attended.

Rapp posits the younger generation’s introspective isolationism as defense against their parents’ sadness-concealing excess—the Cabots’ newly remodeled basement, we’re told, includes a meditation room, gym, “billiards annex,” sauna, screening room and barracuda-housing aquarium. Throughout Wilma provides a faintly heard voice of reason, rolling her eyes at the youngsters’ aloofness, huffing at the ridiculous adults. As ever, Rapp sides with youth, but not before the play’s dovetailing conflicts manifest themselves as natural phenomena on a biblical (or Disney-sized) scale. The surreal ending marks a finale proportionate to this increasingly exaggerated yet acute enactment of rotten privilege. The terrific ensemble finds empathy in even the most caricature-compatible characters, so that by the end we share their long-defered dreams of flight and too-real fears of falling.

(Photo: Kevin Thomas Garcia)