The Insomnia Play
nytheatre.com review by Michael Criscuolo
July 8, 2006
Babel Theatre Project gets their season off to a great start with Jessica Brickman's new absurdist comedy, The Insomnia Play, which features one dead mother, a sheep that is handy with a Dust Buster, and a lothario Sandman who wants to do more than just put people to sleep. No wonder the play's heroine, Georgina, can't sleep. But, there's more to it than that, and the entire production does a terrific job exploring the heart of the matter.
Georgina (played wonderfully by the scrappy Julie Lake) is already on stage when the audience enters the theatre. She idles in bed a while, then gets up and does some ab crunches. After that she grabs a smoke from the pack of cigarettes she keeps hidden near the window. Before the play even begins, it's clear this woman is anxious and fidgety. Then, as the house lights dim and the show starts, it's back to bed to endure her boyfriend George's nocturnal grunts and moans, which she puts an end to by shooting him. George isn't dead, though, just sleeping soundly (he downgrades to snoring after getting shot). Did I mention that the walls of Georgina's bedroom are padded? (A nice symbolic touch by set designer Emily Carmichael.)
Enter Sandman, with pet sheep, Doris, in tow. He's horny as all get out ("I'm so frustrated I could kill myself. All I do…all night, every night is watch women. In beds. With sheets and nightgowns…I've been in a million bedrooms. Mussed up a lot of sheets. But I've never actually gotten to slip it in there."), but Georgina constantly rebuffs him. Doris keeps getting in his way as well ("Baaahhhhh!"), so he knocks her out with a sheep hand puppet ("Sometimes she gets a little overwhelmed and passes out," he explains. "Thinks she's found the flock again and…Whammo! Idiot."). Then, whenever Sandman is about to break down Georgina's defenses, George steps in, dressed like a different macho archetype each time (like Elvis or Zorro), and saves her.
The loose, sexy dreaminess of The Insomnia Play helps Brickman investigate Georgina's main problem, which is her ambivalence towards George. He's nice and she loves him, but she's also a little bored with him. Georgina wishes he were a more exciting, take-charge type of guy. And yet, every time she's approached by a man like that (the Sandman), she resists until George swoops in to rescue her. Then she turns around and starts a fight with him. Brickman's writing truthfully portrays Georgina's dilemma and the myriad ways she tests George's love and devotion all through the night.
The Insomnia Play is also really funny. The surreal goings-on help Brickman ratchet up the humor quotient a lot. In addition to all of Sandman's shenanigans, Doris gets to smoke a cigarette and chew the wall a little bit (just the fact that there's a sheep in this play at all is funny). There's also a visit from Georgina's dead mother, Vana, who has a few choice words for her daughter ("Your need for a little messiness is about as original as the common cold") right before she puts the make on Sandman.
But is all of this happening, or is it just a dream? Ah, well, that's one of The Insomnia Play's many surprises: it keeps you guessing, making you believe one thing, then another, and sometimes both simultaneously. Brickman and director Geordie Broadwater conspire to keep the audience on their toes at all times, and are assisted by a top-notch cast. In addition to Lake, there's Drew Battles's terrific comic performance as Sandman, Ben Vershbow giving a good, solid turn as George, and the hilarious Diana Buirski as both Doris and Vana.
The Insomnia Play marks the arrival of a playwright and an upstart theatre company both worth watching. Not to mention that it'll give you all the more reason to reach for those sleeping pills next time you've got some insomnia of your own.