Reviewed by Robin Breon
The first thing that confronts the audience member upon entering the theatre and gazing at the sparsely set stage, is trying to guess what sound and lighting designer Andrea Lundy (lights) and Richard Feren (sound) may have in store for us with all of those prominently placed banks of ungelled, white lights placed downstage on both the apron and the grid. It soon becomes clear that the conspiracy of light and sound that awaits us is to induce insomnia. Rather than going with what might be a somniferous series of traditional "fade to black" scene changes to advance the action in this perplexing dream play, Lundy elects to blind us with white lights and screeching sound effects to cover the movement of one scene to the next while at the same time giving the illusion that something ominous and important is happening. It works - for awhile - but like the play itself, we are soon lulled into a false sense of portent, suspense and expectation that begins to wear thin.
This is not to suggest that director Chris Abraham (soon to become Crow Theatre's next artistic director succeeding the departing Jim Millan) has not done a fine job in producing a vigorous remount of this play first brought to the stage by Daniel Brooks and Guillermo Verdecchia 16 years ago. Brooks reprises his role as the protagonist, John F., who finds himself in a loveless relationship with his wife, Gwen (Fiona Highet). What is the cause of their estrangement? We only get inklings here and there from the dialog: is Gwen really a holocaust doubter? does she truly empathize with her husband's creative handicap of writer's block? is John F.'s impotence as a writer indicative of a deeper problem?
All of this is exacerbated by the presence of John's brother, William (Randy Hughson) who works as an executive with the Disney corporation. William has power over both John and Gwen both physically as well as socially and economically. It keeps John F. up at night. This is especially true when he contemplates William's attractive but stand-offish wife, Kate, played by Colombe Demers. The more John tries the more she keeps her distance.
The ensuing drama of seduction and ultimate betrayal is played out in a nightmarish sequence of events that won't be revealed here. Suffice to say, it's not pretty. Interpolated into this dystopic dream is John F.'s vision of what is wrong with society which comes by way of a monologue that articulates his "protocols". This rather awkwardly placed rant takes place in the second half of the play and seems to imply a kind of catharsis for John F. who up to this point, remember, has been suffering from writer's block; an inability to communicate his thinking and ideas. Now, all of a sudden, they all come flooding out like so much whatever. This does not have to make dramatic sense because, after all, it could be a dream and dreams - although mini-dramas they may be - do not have to follow convention.
After having been kept awake all these years, the acting in Insomnia may be a bit tired but it is by no means lifeless. The energy and drive of the production still holds it own augmented by assured direction and by set designer Julie Fox's vivacious red floor and wall combination that integrates perfectly with the lighting and soundscape.