NEW YORK — TWELVE DREAMS Drama written and directed by James Lapine.
At Lincoln Center's Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater.
Dreams don't translate too well into drama. What seems fascinating and brilliantly surreal in the imagination can often look silly when staged.
James Lapine has been refining his "Twelve Dreams" since 1978, but in its new production at Lincoln Center, which he also directed, it seems as vague and amorphous as when it first began.
Lapine, who also explored the psychological ramifications of fantasy in his fairy-tale deconstruction, the musical "Into the Woods," is clearly less interested in conventional narrative than in provocative imagery. But, as staged in the small-scale circumstances of the Mitzi Newhouse Theater, the dreams, as presented here, are less transporting than awkward.
"Twelve Dreams," based on one of Swiss psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung's case studies, is set in a New England college town in the 1930s.
Charles Hatrick (played by Harry Groener), a widowed psychiatrist and professor, lives with his 10-year-old daughter, Emma (Mischa Barton), and their stern but loving housekeeper, Jenny (Kathleen Chalfant). As a birthday gift to her father, young Emma presents him with a book of drawings that she has made describing her own dreams.
Fantastical, dark, and disturbing, the dreams seem to portend, as a distinguished visiting professor (Jan Rubes) suggests, the death of the dreamer. Shortly afterward, Emma does indeed become seriously ill.
In the course of the play, we get to see some of Emma's dreams, staged with surreal effect. We also get to see her interact with her father and with the people in his life. These include Sanford Putnam (Matthew Ross), the psychiatrist's young student and protege, who is utterly lacking in social graces, and Dorothy Trowbridge (Donna Murphy, last year's Tony winner for "Passion"), an upper-crust and highly excitable patient. Other characters include Emma's young friend Rindy (Brittany Boyd), and her dance teacher, Miss Banton (Meg Howrey), who awakens Sanford to the world of romance.
Interesting as these characters sometimes are, the play that contains them is less than compelling in dramatic terms, although audiences interested in psychoanalytic theories will find things to think about.
Still, instead of being carried into the center of the play, practical considerations enter our mind.
When a pair of doves are released at one point, what we mostly think about is, how are they going to be retrieved? There are, however, moments and pieces of dialogue that linger in the memory, and the evening, pretentious as it sometimes is, is not without its rewards.
Some of the dream sequences have also been served well technically, with Adrianne Peter Kaczorowski's lighting, Dan Moses Schreier's sound design, Lar Lubovitch's choreography, and Allen Shawn's music adding greatly to the mood.
Adrianne Lobel's set design featuring a multistory house is also quite effective, although it moves around so much that one fears for the actors' safety.
Harry Groener, who recently spent several years doing spirited song and dance turns in the Broadway musical "Crazy For You," does nicely restrained work as the professor, although Mandy Patinkin, in an earlier production at the Public Theater, was better at conveying the character's intensity.
The rest of the cast is quite fine, with particularly strong turns from Murphy and from Jan Rubes, the distinguished Czech-born film actor ("Witness").