Dream Catcher -- ripped from the headlines, torn from the heart
Artistically, Dream Catcher, a new play at the Fountain Theater in Hollywood, is satisfying in every way. And it is much more.
When Brian Tichnell’s Roy comes rushing onto Director Cameron Watson’s wide round stage to join Elizabeth Frances’ Opal on Jeffrey McLaughlin’s set of desert dirt and engaging skyblue backdrop, questions rush the audience into the multi-layered plot.
The lighting by Luke Moyer captures a desert brightness that might seem flat if it didn’t suit so well the emerging action that goes round and round in a confusion of questions and not quickly explained tensions.
Roy and Opal are young and excited with a lot on their minds and life racing through their blood. They are immediately recognizable members of today’s millennial generation, he in costume designer Terri A. Lewis’s Gap khakis, badly pressed dress shirt, and bland tie, she in Target jeans and a snug denim vest that doesn’t conceal her tatted shoulders and tramp stamp.
Roy is an impassioned young engineer for Suntech, a utility-scale solar development company readying a Mojave Desert groundbreaking on a concentrating solar power project. The massive installation is backed by an $800-plus million federal loan guarantee.
Roy has been on this Mojave ground and away from his suburban Boston home for months, guiding project preparations, driven by his unwavering belief that this is a crucial effort in his generation’s heroic and vital fight to turn back climate change.
Opal is a beautiful young native of the Mojave, an heir to its native peoples and an heir to the plight of its native peoples’ struggle with under-employment and dead-end opportunities.
Their hot encounter at the Mojave’s Rusty Nail bar has swept them along in a testosterone-estrogen storm to the moment the play opens. He enters exuberant about the project’s imminent groundbreaking to her as yet unexplained moody mix of impatience and withdrawal.
They play a strange game of anxiety and avoidance that stirs all kinds of passions in both of them until she finally reveals her secret: She has followed the guidance of a dream and discovered human bones, bones of her people, on the land where Suntech plans to build.
If she reveals her find, the federal loan will be withdrawn and the project will be stopped, Roy tells her.
But how can she turn her back on her ancestors? She asks him.
So begins a journey for these young searchers that turns into more than just the ripped-from-the-headlines conflict of solar development versus sacred ground when it becomes clear their struggle is tearing at their hearts.
It is environmentalists versus progress, the holiness of the past versus the desperation to salvage the future, the needs of the many and the needs of the few.
It is still more. It is her need to trust her heart and live up to the traditions she so poorly inherited from her mother versus his need to know and to prove himself in business. It is her need to stand up for herself and his need to stand up for the earth. It is his pressing sexuality and her urgency to be loved.
This list of some of the opposites their struggle eventually embraces is an injustice to Sachs’ writing and the acting talents and Frances and Tichnell because the tensions of these opposites are almost never abstract. As the actors passionately circle this piece of seemingly desolate and yet all too crowded empty desert space, themes cascade over the audience.
The opposites come through an engineer’s plain-spoken scientific preaching about the urgency of climate change and his admissions about the strengths and weaknesses of his solar solution. They also come through the darker and yet simpler language and insights of a reservation girl raised on Native American myths of darkness and light.
It is an easy and yet difficult play to watch, easy because it is unpretentious storytelling and difficult because the dualities threaten to overwhelm the audience just as the conflict threatens to ruin Roy and Opal.
There will be no plot spoilers here. The play suggests simple power dynamics expressed through money or gender politics may resolve everyday dualities.
But a more profound metaphysical desert of the spirit or the soul or the eternal earth may be what ultimately will have its way.
Credits: Author: Stephen Sachs/Director: Cameron Watson/ Starring: Elizabeth Frances and Brian Tichnell/ Producers: Simon Levy and Deborah Lawlor
Set design: Jeffrey McLaughlin/Lighting design: Luke Moyer/Costume design: Terri A. Lewis/Composer/Sound design: Peter Bayne/Prop Designer: Terri Roberts/Production stage manager: Emily Lehrer/Technical director: Scott Tuomey/Publicist: Lucy Pollak
At the Fountain Theater/5060 Fountain Ave., Los Angeles, CA. 90029/323-663-1525