The Ochre House has a penchant for exploring malaise, rage, profound disappointment. Sometimes the venom eclipses other elements but that’s allright. They earn it. Written and directed by Justin Locklear, Dreamless is reminiscent of The Iceman Cometh in its consideration of living happily and how hoping for a better day affects that. In Eugene O’Neill’s Iceman, Hickey tries to disabuse his friends of their romanticized slant on the world, believing delusions only lead to pain. But, of course, pessimists and optimists share at least one idea, that their own personal version of life is closer to the truth. And Hickey only becomes awakened to his change of attitude when he discovers his wife has been unfaithful. So then the question becomes: is it better to risk trusting others or embrace a kind of practical skepticism?
Claire (French for clear) the hero of Dreamless, runs The Clean Plate Diner with her brother John, who came on to help after their father died. John deferred to the needs of his family over personal ambitions. The people who work at the diner are a sweet-natured bunch, the cook, waiter, bartender…..All the characters (except The Cat) wear sad clown makeup and more or less endure John’s sneering, nasty attitude. John is not such a tyrant that he won’t allow contradictions or criticism, but his resentment of anyone’s cheerfulness or warmth is oppressive and constant. While Claire is undeniably gentle and encouraging, John is a cantankerous snot, looking to extinguish as much joy as he possibly can. When he actually shows enough ethical backbone to acknowledge Claire’s extraordinary talent, it makes him (it seems) more disgruntled than ever. Unfortunately, such is her self-sacrificing inclination, that Claire won’t be happy if John isn’t. His pouting ruins it for her.
By removing and restoring the white greasepaint at strategic points in the narrative Locklear may be commenting on the ridiculous plight of indulging those who would involve us in their delusions. The strength of his script is its disambiguation between pessimism and actuality. Sometimes negativity can be just as illusory as daydreaming. Sometimes it can save us from the terror of leaving our comfort zone behind. The Ochre House very often inhabits a kind of gauzy fugue state that divides the abyss from a world brimming with diaphanous, radiant light. Dreamless stuck with me much, much longer (thank you, Ben) than I expected it to, and I recommend it highly with one proviso. Brother John is such a vile, vicious viper (despite all attempts to temper this notion) it was difficult for me to appreciate the rest. That being said, Dreamless is worth your time, and then some. The Cat (by Trey) is inspired and sublime.
The Ochre House presents Dreamless, playing August 20th-September 10th, 2016. 826 Exposition Avenue, Dallas, Texas 75226. 214-826-6273. OchreHouseTheater.org