Review: “the dreamer examines his pillow” at the Attic Theater Company

David Roberts

“So you're a comfort to me. lf there was somebody who was like that for you, somebody who was like you the way you used ta be before you were the way you are now, we could probably draw a straight line through the three of us and sec where we're goin.” (Dad)

That affirmation by Donna’s (played with explosive intensity by Lauren Nicole Cipoletti) Dad (played with the powerful indifference of a bad parent by Dennis Parlato) might be the most engaging theme in John Patrick Shanley’s 1986 “the dreamer examines his pillow.” In order to discover Dad’s kernel of truth, one must navigate through 90 minutes of non-stop dialogue (and a few lengthy monologues) and a delicious dose of magical realism. And that is not an unpleasant task, given the high quality of the Attic Theater Company’s production of the Shanley classic curtly running at the iconic Flea Theater.

After discovering that her estranged boyfriend Tommy (played with an edgy narcissistic streak by Shane Patrick Kearns) is “seeing” her sixteen-year-old sister Mona, Donna forces her way into his “new” apartment and confronts him. This incursion disrupts Tommy’s discourse with his refrigerator which apparently holds more than a steady supply of Budweiser beer. Donna calls Tommy a “doghead,” perhaps a euphemism for a chronic loser who not only has “been with” Donna’s sister, but has robbed his own mother. Despite all this, the two are still madly in love with each other and Mr. Shanley’s play apparently addresses the meaning of love (sex and all) and how we fall into and out of it and, more importantly, how we get the whole process “begun.” 

Fearful that she is turning into her mother and that Tommy is a version of her father, she visits Dad to get his advice and bask in his guru-like exposition on love, sex, and art. Where is the Donna in Scene 1? After this magical mystery tour, Donna persuades her Dad to visit Tommy and straighten him out or at least beat him up. All three scenes are terribly funny although the audience on the night this reviewer saw the play seemed to prefer digging more deeply into Mr. Shanley’s script for the secrets to the universe. There is quite a bit of rather rich symbolism which is easily accessible throughout. And there is considerable “The Honeymooner’s” type bickering and threats to kick one’s sparring partner from “here to the moon.” Ralph and Alice would be proud.

The symbolism, along with the magical realism, are engaging and just under the surface of the text there are rich questions raised about life’s difficulties and the need to be honest and the need to “begin.” Dad’s final words are crucial. “Flyin’ in the face of the truly great mistakes, there is that consolation.” And, referring to the play’s title, after encountering a difficult time, relationship, or confrontation and vowing never to revisit those, a rematch is certain. Dad counsels Tommy that he has to dig deep and stop running away from himself. Dad says, “You can't stop. Once you step off the edge, you're gone. Once your head's been in that place, you can’t ever take it out.” The dreamer cannot be assured he or she will never revisit the dent made in the pillow during the nightmare.

Under Laura Braza's direction, the ensemble cast does what it can with Mr. Shanley's perhaps outdated script. Psychobabble was a hallmark of the 1980s. The characters need more depth. Who is Donna? Where does she live? Why foes she need Tommy? There is little or no exposition about this main character. We know a bit about Tommy and Dad but next to nothing about Donna.

Dennis Parlato and Lauren Nicole Cipoletti - Photo by Natalie Artemyeff

Dennis Parlato and Lauren Nicole Cipoletti - Photo by Natalie Artemyeff

Why do playwrights - even the most celebrated among them - assume everyone who attends a performance is straight and can immerse themselves in heteronoramtive culture and symbolism or that all heterosexuals are immersed in that culture? If you can affirm with Donna’s Dad that “Sex is for makin’ babies” then you will have no problem engaging with Mr. Shanley’s text. If not – or if you see love and sex as two separate entities – then you will have to work a bit harder to find a way to connect with this play.


The cast of ‘the dreamer examines his pillow” features Lauren Nicole Cipoletti as Donna, Shane Patrick Kearns as Tommy, and Dennis Parlato as Dad.

“the dreamer examines his pillow” has scenic design by Julia Noulin-Merat, costume design by Lauren Gaston, lighting design by David Upton, and sound design by Beth Lake. The casting director is Judy Bowman, CSA.

Presented by the Attic Theater Company, “the dreamer examines his pillow” will be performed at The Flea Theater (41 White Street, Tribeca) Saturday, July 25th through Saturday, August 15th, 2015. The performance schedule is Tuesdays – Saturdays at 7 PM, and Sundays at 5 PM (there is an additional performance on Saturday, August 15th at 3 PM). For more information and to purchase tickets, please visit The running time is 90 minutes without intermission.