“Expressionism and all other unconventional techniques in drama have only one valid aim, and that is a clear approach to truth.” These words from Tennessee William’s production notes on The Glass Menagerie greet the audience of El Sueno as they enter the theatre. I warn you to keep this in the back of your head, lest you get invariably lost in the nightmares of these women.
Adapted from several of Tennessee William’s play by Cecilia DeFeo (who also directs and stars), El Sueno or the Delightful Nightmares of the Ladies tells the story of three women who all have one thing in common: they can’t sleep and when they do, they have vivid dreams in which they embody various Williams characters. The businesswoman (Lorena Sabogal) who waits for a promotion transforms into Cornelia from Something Unspoken. The writer (Karen Morales Chacana) who is unlucky in love and crippled by writer’s block embodies Maggie from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. The homeless woman (Cecilia DeFeo) who carries her life with her in a memory box becomes Amanda Wingfield of Glass Menagerie fame. Justin Paschalides, in addition to providing underscoring on a beautiful piano, chimes in as the three apathetic male characters from these respective plays.
While the premise of this work is incredibly fascinating, it never quite lives up to its potential. The introduction of the ladies was done well with lighting from Nathan Holliard, but the rest of the production remained a confused blur as it is unclear what is the dream and what is reality. Costume changes among the actresses rarely helped as most of them were not distinctive enough. It is not until the end of the production did I realize exactly what was happening. While I appreciate the effort to convey this concept through magical realism, a little more clarity would have helped.
However, the actresses on stage make up for it somewhat with their wonderful performances. Chacana is a delight to watch as she transitions from the somewhat awkward and insecure writer to the sensual and seductive Maggie. Her dance with the typewriter and office chair was one of the highlights of the show. DeFeo has the ability to convey so many emotions with her body whether she is silent or speaking. Sabogal exudes an air of Southern regency even as she protests affronts to her character.
The pursuit of truth should always be considered a priority for not only the theatre, but for humanity. This group of actors are certainly bent on conveying the truth to their audiences. However, they never quite find a way to use the clear approach that Williams postulated.
Running Time: 45 minutes.
El Sueño or The Delightful Nightmares of the Ladies plays through Sunday, July 26, 2015 at Atlas Performing Arts Center: Lab II 1333 H Street NE, in Washington, DC. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit their Capital Fringe page.