That Poor Dream

Theater, Drama
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 (Photograph: Nick Benacerraf)
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Photograph: Nick BenacerrafThat Poor Dream
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Photograph: Nick BenacerrafThat Poor Dream
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Photograph: Nick BenacerrafThat Poor Dream
 (Photograph: Nick Benacerraf)
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Photograph: Nick BenacerrafThat Poor Dream

[Note: The review below refers to the version of That Poor Dream that played at the New Ohio Theatre in October 2014. The play has now returned for an encore as part of teh Tank's 2015 Flint & Tinder season.]

That Poor Dream. New Ohio Theatre (Off-Off Broadway). By the Assembly. Directed by Jess Chayes. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 35mins. No intermission.

That Poor Dream: In brief

The Assembly presents a devised work that melds American class issues with themes from Dickens's Great Expectations. The troupe's co–artistic director Jess Chayes helms a full production of a piece that played at the Ice Factory festival last year.

That Poor Dream: Theater review by Adam Feldman

Charles Dickens's Great Expectations is the primary inspiration for That Poor Dream, but the play is probably best approached with more realistic hopes. Set on a train from New York to Connecticut, with multiple flashbacks to flesh out the plot, the Assembly’s collectively devised work imports Pip (Edward Bauer) to the age when a “gentleman” has an Ivy League degree, a joylessly dandyish fashion sense and perhaps a decent table at Per Se. This is a Pip of the 1 percent, peevish and ungrateful; when he meets Magwitch (Terrell Wheeler), the escaped criminal who has been his secret benefactor since he was an impoverished child, he can barely disguise his contempt. Neither, unfortunately, can the Assembly contain its distate for him. Pip’s spoiled, prickly unpleasantness may well represent a deliberate effort not to let him (and his class) off the hook, but it also keeps the audience from being hooked into his story.

As a result, smart though it is, much of That Poor Dream is also rather dull. The design elements are impressive, especially Nick Benacerraf’s train set, as are several performances: Ben Beckley as Pip’s unflappable, sneering romantic rival; Moti Margolin as his kindhearted brother-in-law; Emily Louise Perkins as his chirpy lawyer. But while many of the updates to Dickens are clever, some are confusing—why is Miss Havisham (T. Ray Campbell) played by an African-American man in drag?—and other don’t ring true. At the end of the play, some of the actors step forward to offer apparently autobiographical monologues about their personal histories. (“As downtown theater artists,” a program note explains, “we occupy a liminal space in the American class structure.”) Heartfelt though these are, they feel like a bit of a cheat. One wishes the Assembly members had put more of this feeling into Pip’s story, and reserved less of it for themselves.—Theater review by Adam Feldman

THE BOTTOM LINE The Assembly’s aspirations to class critique meet with partial success.

Follow Adam Feldman on Twitter: @FeldmanAdam

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