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Dominic Bogart and Bo Corre in Molly's DreamSecrets of Attraction
By Kathleen Dimmick

Molly's Dream
By Marie Irene Fornes
Soho Rep
46 Walker St.
Box office: (212) 868-4444


Artistic Director Daniel Aukin has mounted a most engaging premiere production of Maria Irene Fornes's 1968 play Molly's Dream at Soho Rep. A fantasia with songs on the nature of attraction, it combines theatrical elements familiar from Fornes's other plays--short, disjunctive scenes, "interruptions" in text and production, role transformation, and interpolated songs--to create a mordantly unique look at love, dependency, repulsion and sexual need.

Molly, a waitress in a bar, reads a magazine aloud and glimpses a Young Man who appears briefly at the swinging doors and then abruptly disappears. She falls asleep, and dreams the subsequent play (much as Bottom dreams his romantic episode with Titania). The Young Man, now Jim, glowingly attractive and all in white, returns. He is accompanied by five Hanging Women, who are quite literally attached to him as a kind of compound female appendage. This chorus of five women orbits him like a cloud of electrons. Molly, too, falls for him, but he says he simply can't take on any more women: "I can hardly walk as it is. I can't play baseball." John, a big cowboy covered in guns, enters and orders a Bloody Mary, but Molly ignores him. Then Jim finally succumbs to Molly's stolid desire, and she insists on an exclusive association, demanding that he send the other women away. He refuses, claiming that he's "indebted to them" and doesn't want to hurt their feelings. Now the rejected lover, Molly transforms herself into Marlene Dietrich, hat, accent and all, provokes Jim's desire, and seizes the role of rejecter for herself.

In Part II of this intermission-less work, Molly orders absinthe, Jim and John drink rye, play cards and arm wrestle, and a Shirley Temple-ish girl-woman named Alberta enters (played by the delightful Toi Perkins), singing and tap-dancing. Mack, the bartender, orders her out, as she's a child, but John is smitten and sings a love aria, "One very long, very narrow, idea." Jim complains that John isn't even real, but Alberta (who says she's actually 27 years old) responds: "I still like him better than you. Even if he's not real." In a series of transformations, John becomes Dracula and sinks his teeth into Alberta, who becomes a glamorous lady in an evening gown. They sing a love duet, and John becomes Superman, whereupon the two exit in a formal wedding procession, ushered out by the Hanging Women.

In the end, Jim and Molly attempt to reconcile, but it's no good. They sing of reduced expectations and existential disappointment in a downbeat little song about their "sense of incompletion." As Molly removes her Dietrich hat, they promise to wait for one another, implying another, possible chance for love in the future. But maybe not. Jim leaves, and Molly resumes her original sleeping position from the beginning of the play. The Young Man (formerly Jim) then re-enters, orders a drink, looks at Molly, and exits. Molly wakes and looks at the place where the Young Man sat, as the lights fade out.

Molly's Dream is among Fornes's early works, coming a few years after Promenade and The Successful Life of Three, both from 1965, and well before her later, better-known works, such as Fefu and her Friends (1977), Mud (1983) and Abingdon Square (1987). As such, it's both more fragmented and more self-consciously theatrical than the finely spare, or comparatively realistic, later pieces. Her decided interest in songs, role playing and "quoting"-- of Marlene Dietrich, Shirley Temple, and western film iconography--all contribute to an ornate theatrics, even though Molly's Dream certainly shares thematic concerns with all Fornes's works: the identity and status of women in a male universe, the necessity of a moral education, and the peculiar vagaries of love.

Dominic Bogart and Bo Corre in Molly's DreamFor this production, Aukin has transformed the space at Soho Rep, re-orientating it to create a long horizontal playing area with three rows of steeply banked bleachers. The long wooden bar dominates the stage, and three musicians (piano, violin and guitar) are revealed at the far end. Aukin and set designer Louisa Thompson have created an evocative environment that recalls the long tradition of the American bar play from Saroyan to O'Neill, while also establishing (with the help of Marcus Doshi's lighting) the surrealistic quality essential to the play's dream frame.

As a director, Aukin often plays with the idea of time, experimenting with a variety of rhythms on stage--from slowed-down time, usually in the interstices of the text, to speeded-up time, usually with the text itself. For example, in Quincy Long's The Year of the Baby (2000), Aukin extended the transitions between scenes, creating risky "real time" rhythms while setting several of the surrounding monologues at rapid-fire tempo. He added similar movement "riffs" to Mac Wellman's Cat's-Paw (2000). With Molly's Dream, Aukin's rhythmic experiments continue. The opening movement of the play, for example, signals that Aukin is going to take his time, as Molly sets up the bar at a studied pace, but then the pacing changes. These experiments aren't always successful, particularly when it comes to the hard, theatrical reality of the songs. It's a delicate matter to achieve the right rhythmic balance of music to spoken text given the number of songs Fornes has included in this relatively short play. Composed by Maury Loeb for this production, the songs are engaging, well-performed, and feel mostly appropriate to the play's flattened, downbeat sensibility. However, several of them go on too long (despite David Neumann's inventive choreography) weighing down the light, evanescent quality of the words, which would seem to invite music that functions more tonally, providing character accents rather than extended production numbers.

Similarly, the text calls for abrupt lighting shifts to indicate important changes for the characters. Fornes uses such moments of interruption in many of her plays: the tableau freezes in Mud; the isolated "acting" gestures in The Successful Life of Three; the card-flipping gesture in Tango Palace. These Brecht-like interruptions stop the dramatic momentum and allow the audience, in a sort of literalization of the Pinter pause, to reflect on the process of human consciousness, on how thought occurs in the theater. These are some of Fornes's most profound moments, as her theatrical program has always involved a meditation on the acquisition of knowledge—how human beings learn, how they develop, how they, quite literally, expand their minds. As part of the larger play of time in the theater, these interruptions likewise require a delicate balancing act from a director, and Aukin does not always seem in control of these moments: what happens when the lights shift, how do we understand these "show-stopping" moments, how do we "read" the moment of consciousness that is taking place?

That said, the production remains visually rewarding, and the performances are mostly strong. A slight problem occurs with Molly's transformation into Marlene Dietrich. As the actress Bo Corre already speaks with a continental accent, her transformation into Dietrich loses some distinction and resonance. Patrick Boll as cowboy John acquits himself handsomely as both singer and iconic western bar presence. Louisa Thompson, as costume designer, creates a wonderful conceit for the Hanging Women, who enter in transparent raincoats, translucent appendages to Jim's body. It's an evocative image of women as a flock of wings--both the burden that weighs man down and the association that may allow him to soar.

Aukin has performed a genuine service by resurrecting Molly's Dream (which previously received only a workshop production in New York, directed by the author). Fornes's light, even whimsical touch on the nature of desire and attraction, rendered here through her open dramaturgy of song and the rhythmic play of movement and stillness, is strongly realized by Aukin's imaginative production.

[Kathleen Dimmick works as a director, dramaturg, and teacher. This fall she will teach theater at Bennington College.]


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