The Soldier Dreams
nytheatre.com review by Ed Malin
March 27, 2011
Canadian playwright Daniel MacIvor’s 1997 piece The Soldier Dreams is beautifully resurrected by Theatre East. The story centers on David, who is dying of an unnamed illness, surrounded by his partner Richard, his sisters Tish and Judy, his brother-in-law Sam, and his nurse. They are concerned and ponder David’s repeatedly murmured words “Ottawa” and “matchbook.” Sam assumes David is remembering his sister’s wedding in Ottawa.
While David is in a coma, another David appears, full of life, and says “If I had my way, we’d all be dancing.” In the balcony upstage, this David appears with a German student he once met in Ottawa. They get to know each other through a series of appearances during the play. Tish and others also get monologues. The play is pretty evenly split between interior and exterior dialogue.
There is a clear difference between how David sees himself and what the others know about him. Some think he quit smoking while others are not so sure. The group also discusses if it is okay to tell a homophobic joke even if a (self-hating) gay person told you the joke. This aside, the survival of David’s interior life is the most beautiful thing in the play. The title comes from a quote “Even when the soldier dreams the war goes on.” What is the struggle that the metaphorical soldier in the piece is dealing with? Some questions are not answered, which quite pleasantly engages the audience to fill in the blanks.
Director Judson Jones succeeds in making this play feel like a dream. Jessica M. Burgess’s lighting and Scott O’Brien’s sound design are largely what tell the audience when we are coming back to the “real” world. Lea Anello’s set consists of a bed which obscures David’s body; I liked very much how the bed was disassembled at the climax of the play. Kohli Calhoun and Nick Cianfrogna have accurately coached the cast to sound like Canadians. The standout performances for me are Bryan Jarrett as David, Helen Merino as Tish, and Joseph Mitchell Parks as the German Student. An original song “Fly” by Mike Kimlicko and performed by Burn the Maps brings even more joy to an ending which (to judge from the writer’s film work) is not supposed to be sad.