Dreams of Friendly Aliens
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
March 17, 2007
The most compelling reason to see Dreams of Friendly Aliens is the excellent performance of Gene Gallerano, a young actor who has previously been seen at the Abingdon Theatre Company in War in Paramus. Gallerano plays Max Chavarra, a 16-year-old kid whose mother disappeared on the way home from a shopping center about nine months ago; he's trying to cope with the unsolved mystery of her whereabouts (and probable murder), along with his father's complete inability to deal with the situation and his grandmother's advancing senility. Gallerano makes Max thoroughly believable and sympathetic, even as he yells at his unhearing grandma or rebels against his woefully ineffectual dad. We feel for this young man and his desperate situation, and hope that at least one adult will attempt to help him through the crisis and provide the grounding and support he so critically needs.
Such a character exists in the play, the oddly named Mrs. Ricotta, a guidance counselor at Max's high school. Playwright Daniel Damiano has written her as a helpful but troubled woman, and in the pivotal scene where she confront's Max's difficult father Jesse, suggesting that he take Max out of school temporarily and send him to a therapist, Damiano perversely stacks the deck against her. The scene turns into a meltdown for Jesse, and the play—which seemed until now to be firmly about Max—shifts protagonists and suddenly brings Jesse centerstage. It's a bad choice from which Dreams never recovers.
And it's not helped by the fact that neither Jamie C. Ward as Jesse or, especially, Maureen Griffin as Mrs. Ricotta are particularly convincing in their roles. Lenore Loveman, who plays Jesse's mother-in-law Fretta Nutella (another woman named after a food; what's that about, anyway?), exhibits masterful control repeating the same phrases verbatim, over and over again. Is this actually how people who are senile (the play's phrase; don't we call this Alzheimer's nowadays?) really behave, though?
Max does have a dream of friendly aliens, by the way, which he describes in one of the play's best-written and most lyrical passages. But Damiano even lets Jesse appropriate this image in this ill-conceived piece, which cheats Gallerano and the audience from a satisfying climax and conclusion.