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stage dive

Theater Reviews: The Thoroughly Enjoyable Dreams of Flying, Dreams of Falling

Christine Lahti as Sandra Cabot and Reed Birney as Dr. Bertram Cabot in Dreams of Flying, Dreams of Falling.

Dreams of Flying, Dreams of Falling is the first production of an Adam Rapp play I’ve enjoyed more or less without reservations. Maybe that’s because someone other than Rapp (Neil Pepe) directed this one; maybe it’s because it largely dispenses with the traditional half-adolescent Rapp tropes (the broken young man of impossible promise, the baby-voiced Zoloft prophetess). All of the usual Rapptrap has been minimized in favor of some truly fearsome grown-ups: There’s the great Reed Birney, working his well-worked ineffectual vein very effectively indeed as Bertram Cabot (yes: Bertram Cabot), a round-bellied, pinheaded Connecticut Wasp (whose name, in case I didn’t mention it, is Bertram Cabot — presumably because Waspy Waspthorpe was already registered at the Dramatists Guild by A.R. Gurney). There’s Christine Lahti as his monstrous wife Sandra, whose teeth show even when she’s not smiling (and she’s never smiling). And finally, as the dinner guest, there’s Cotter Smith, sporting a name, Dirk Von Stofenberg, and a pair of slacks (pink) that only a burlesque artist or a man with a yacht-club insignia stitched in his dinner jacket could pull off. Von Stofenberg is the latter, having emerged suspiciously unscathed from a Madoff-sounding financial scandal he probably helped to engineer. The ruined offspring of these sinewy old raptors (Katherine Waterston and Shane Macrae) prowl the borders of their parents’ feeding ground, but the play, mercifully, belongs to the old pack, not the youngsters.

I’m being a little obvious with the carnivore metaphors, huh? Not to worry: so is Rapp. This is a dinner-party-from-hell play, with little hat tips to earlier practitioners of the subgenre (Albee, Durang, etc). Andrew Boyce and Takeshi Kata’s terrifying set looks like the inside of a leviathan, done up in faultless Litchfield style. There’s a rough beast in the finished basement, geese keep slamming into the whited sides of the Cabot mansion, a man is marked for death within the first 30 minutes, and the delightfully unamused Quincy Tyler Bernstine, playing Wilma the maid, brings a little whiff of Cassandra into the room every time she enters to clean up after the alabaster patricians, e.g., removing their dead waterfowl or resetting their decimated table not after but while the kids, left alone for a few minutes, furtively copulate atop it. (This bangy little bit of choreography, deftly executed by Waterston, Macrae, and Berstine, is absolutely superb and contains the best use of a chandelier since — no, including — Phantom.) There’s nothing subtle on offer here: Rapp’s egregious poeticizing once again impinges on his very excellent sense of shock humor, and I couldn’t really tell if he’s sending up whack-a-Wasp dining-room absurdism or just aping it. I’m not sure it matters. Dreams of Flying doesn’t have much new to say on the subject of the savagery underlying American wealth and privilege, but it has a great time covering the classics — adultery, exigency, barely suppressed madness and hysteria. You won’t feel much by the end, but you’ll have had a great evening getting numb.

On the other side of the Off Broadway color wheel sits Motherhood Out Loud, a Whitman’s Sampler of short plays by playwrights well-known (Theresa Rebeck, Beth Henley) and barely known (Lameece Issaq). They range from the genuinely touching to the merely twee, and to tell you which is which would be churlish — you’ve already bought the ticket, what are you going to do? Duck out for a smoke until the headliners are on? There’s no real need: The quality’s consistent enough to keep you warmly engaged, if never genuinely challenged. A typical episode of Modern Family would probably furnish you with much of the same material. Suffice it to say, if you’re a parent looking for a gentle heart massage, you could do far worse. The sleepless nights of those first eight weeks; the heart-wrenching first day of school; the sex talk; the long drive to college — the entire life cycle is here, intact, with some newish cosmetic flourishes (adoption, a boy who wants to wear a dress in the school play, the complications of having a “gayby”), but no real curves thrown. The production is sleek as a late-model minivan, with nice yuppie-naive animations and projections by Emily Hubley and Jan Hartley, and the four performers (Mary Bacon, Saidah Arrika Ekulona, Randy Graff, and James Lecesne) display impressive range as they bounce from very-alike character to very-alike character. See it here before it transfers to Pier 1, which feels, from the get-go, like its natural bassinet.

Photo: Kevin Thomas Garcia