Directed by Joe Jahraus
At Profiles Alley Stage
An affecting tale that says much about what we never say.
Like viewing one of those Thorne rooms at the Art Institute, Profile Theatre’s Midwest debut of The Dream of the Burning Boy is intimate, filled with pithy detail, and indicative of an achingly larger environment that only be glimpsed through a glass dimly. Covering a vast swath of emotional reactions to death, Dream is an evocative work buoyed by some great performances.
No one writes about the transformative powers of a gym teacher, and that trend doesn’t end here. Mr. Morrow (Darrell Cox) is a favorite English teacher at the local high school. His good-natured but firm approach is quickly established as he works with his own favorite, Dane (Vic Kuligoski), after class on a paper regarding Dante’s Divine Comedy. Tragedy strikes when Dane suffers an aneurysm upon exiting, leaving Mr. Morrow the last person to see him alive and creating a series of inevitable events that unearth a surprising secret about the tame teacher.
If that seems like a brief plot outline, it’s because this is not a plot-driven work per se—more of a spectrum-of-portraits of the people Dane leaves behind and their reactions to random grief. His sister Rachel (Alaina Stacey) copes with a Gibraltar-sized chip on her shoulder, girlfriend Chelsea (Marilyn Bass) exploits for attention, and friend Kyle (Joel Collins) seems (almost) unfazed. Their inferences of how the high school itself is reacting come off a bit Heathers-esque or even the lesser-known World’s Greatest Dad in that it’s all self-serving and phoney. They’re all actually young actors, which is a daring casting choice for a piece of this gravitas, and it pays off. Stacey’s Rachel is Mr. Morrow’s grief antithesis, but they are equally bonded by the pain of words unsaid. Her histrionics are heartbreaking in their own right.
Counterpointing the youth are the adults, who seem just as unable to handle grief with all their seniority. Darrell Cox is reliably excellent as Morrow, a character that benefits greatly from Cox’s talent at playing the understated. Guidance counselor Steve (Eric Burgher) is a near-farcical foil to Mr. Morrow’s self-restraint. His scenes are a bit abrasive even with Burgher’s talents, and I much preferred the quiet volumes of unspoken words between Morrow and Dane’s mother (Sarah Chalcroft, in a wonderful short scene), who comes in search of some insight to her son’s last human interaction (among other things).
Read has an ear for authentic dialogue that is also adept at revealing character quickly—you know these people without seeing much of them. With all it’s realism, director Jahraus has found and exploited the expressionistic construction so popular to 21st-century storytelling in Read’s script. It’s the kind of storytelling that involves seeming non-sequiturs and breathtaking cuts that leave the head whirling. When it comes to grief, that’s perfectly appropriate.
Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams provides the title—a vignette of wish-fulfillment for one moment more to say all the things left unsaid. Anyone who’s experienced loss will see a little something of themselves here, and perhaps leave with a bit more bravery to not let things linger as though death were no more than an unfounded rumor.
Reviewed by Clint May
Date Reviewed: April 4, 2013
At Profiles Alley Stage, 4147 N. Broadway, Chicago, IL 60613, call 773.549.1815, tickets $35-40, Thursdays and Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 5pm and 8pm, Sundays 7pm, running time is 80 minutes with no intermission, through April 28.