- Chief New York Theatre Critic
- Outer Critics Circle
"There have been, and will be again, many destructions of [humankind] arising out of many causes; the greatest have been brought about by the agencies of fire and water, and other lesser ones by innumerable other causes." – Plato (“Timaeus”)
Rinne Groff has created an engaging extended metaphor based on the 1911 fire that destroyed the iconic Dreamland on Coney Island. Counterpointing the event of the suspicious destruction by fire is the destruction by water by superstorm Sandy in 2012 and the “destruction” of Kate (Rebecca Naomi Jones) by the “lesser causes” of betrayal, self-doubt, and prevarication. “Fire in Dreamland,” currently running at The Public’s Anspacher Theater, explores that metaphor and its trove of rhetorical devices that bombard the senses and often places the audience in a surreal wonderland.
Standing on the pier in Coney Island, Kate attempts to deflect the advances of the aggressive Jaap Hooft (Enver Gjokaj) the Dutch filmmaker who approaches her and offers to wipe the mascara from the right side of her face. Kate has been crying. Kate is lonely. Kate ultimately is swept away by the dashing and handsome filmmaker who wants to make a film about the fire that focuses on the animals that were destroyed, including the iconic Black Prince. “Fire in Dreamland” recounts the relationship between Kate and Jaap and how its disastrous outcome counterpoints the disasters on Dreamland, Superstorm Sandy, and those that eventually challenge the survival of Everyman.
Director Marissa Wolf and the three-member cast grapple successfully with Rinne Groff’s demanding script which results in a sometimes mind-spinning tumble into the playwright’s wonderland of fractured realism laced with magical realism and “theatre noire.” Until Lance appears on stage he is far upstage right sitting in a beach chair barely in sight behind post-Sandy reconstruction scaffolding. During this time, Lance (Kyle Beltran) edits (“blinks”) scenes using his clapperboard. When he emerges from the shadows, he is identified as the New York Film Academy staff member who “signs out” equipment for one-time student Jaap. The sound of the clapperboard stops and starts scenes that are not defined by time, space, or any other imaginable dimension.
Rebecca Naomi Jones’s Kate is multilayered and believable. Ms. Jones infuses her character with an honesty that is both convincing and powerful. Enver Gjokaj’s Jaap is self-centered, selfish, and his “charm” is disquieting. And Kyle Beltran’s languorous Lance emerges from the scaffolding emboldened to take on Jaap and somehow “rescue” Kate.
Susan Hilferty’s Coney Island Boardwalk/bedroom scenic design is expansive and provides the “space” needed to explore the crevices of Groff’s script. Creeping out under the first row of patron seats, the boardwalk beckons the audience into the playwright’s bizarre world of flaming lion manes, clicking clapperboards, and fractured hearts. Ms. Hilfery’s costumes tease the imagination and the senses – those mermaid costumes! Amith Chandrashaker’s lighting and Brendan Aanes’s original sound and music blend “reality” and “fantasy” in remarkable shadowy “soundbites.”
In Rabbi Harold S. Kushner’s groundbreaking “When Bad Things Happen to Good People,” the author concludes there is no compelling answer to the title’s question; however, he posits that the real question is what do people do after illness, death of a loved one, or natural disaster occurs? And in his follow-up “Living A Life That Matters,” he suggests that what one needs to do after the calamitous events is to make a commitment to creating and living a life that matters to others and to the world.
Whether the fire in Dreamland was arson or not; whether the 2012 hurricane on the East coast was providential or not; and whether Kate was broken by Jaap’s actions, it is what the residents on Coney Island did after disaster and What Kate does after being “duped” by Jaap (was she?) that is important. Rinne Goff opts for hopefulness in “Fire in Dreamland.” Embracing motherhood and creativity rather than loneliness and despair has the power to extinguish flames, emerge from the Flood, and all the “other” destructions of humankind.
FIRE IN DREAMLAND
The complete cast of “Fire in Dreamland” features Kyle Beltran (Lance), Enver Gjokaj (Jaap Hooft),and Rebecca Naomi Jones (Kate).
“Fire in Dreamland” features scenic and costume design by Susan Hilferty, lighting design by Amith Chandrashaker, and original music and sound design by Brendan Aanes. Production photos by Joan Marcus.
“Fire in Dreamland” runs at The Public’s Anspacher Theater (425 Lafayette Street) through Sunday, August 5, 2018 on the following performance schedule: Tuesday through Friday at 7:00 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday at 1:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Public Theater Partner, Supporter, Member tickets and full price tickets, starting at $60.00, can be accessed by calling (212) 967-7555, visiting www.publictheater.org, or in person at the Taub Box Office at The Public Theater. Running time is 1 hour and 30 minutes without intermission.