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Theater review: 'Dreams of the Washer King' at Theatre 40

February 1, 2012 |  1:00 pm

Playwright Christopher Wall strews the puzzle pieces of plot far and wide in “Dreams of the Washer King,” now in its West Coast premiere at Theatre 40. Gathering the play's meaning will challenge the most industriously attentive playgoer.

At times, one wonders whether all the obliquity doesn't impede the audience's emotional connection with the play. In a cogent staging, however, director Andre Barron brings the audience full circle, from bafflement to catharsis.

The action is set in 1970s Maine, a “haunted landscape of time and memory” splendidly evoked by Peter Strauss’ lighting and  Jeff G. Rack's set -- both blue-collar home and ramshackle ruin. Like the reclusive local “washer king” who tried to launch a used appliance business, the people in this backwater are trapped, hopeless, eager to escape.

That's particularly true for teenage Ryan (Aaron Shand), a bright high-schooler who dreams of life beyond his squalid environs. Ryan, who spends his spare time trying to tape messages from his recently deceased dad, senses that new neighbor Wade (Dirk Etchison) is dangerous. That doesn't stop his lonely mother, Claire (Ann Hearn), from a brief and disastrous dalliance with the newcomer. But it's when Ryan befriends Elsie (Jennifer Levinson), Wade's daughter, that the stage is set for disaster.

Blurring time and reality, “Dreams" is part memory play, part murder mystery and part psychological suspense thriller. It requires delicate handling, and Barron has assembled just the “dream” cast for the job -– exceptional performers whose poignant portrayals are beacons in the murk. They alone are well worth seeing.


-- F. Kathleen Foley

“Dreams of the Washer King,” Theatre 40, 241 S. Moreno Drive, Beverly Hills. 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends Feb. 26.  $23 and $25.  (310) 364-0535.  Running time: 2 hours.

 Photo: Jennifer Levinson and  Aaron Shand. Credit: Ed Krieger.