The Dreamer and the Acrobat enticed me with its mere title. Having recently begun a love affair with acrobatics and all things circus-related, I jumped at an opportunity to see it. Upon leaving the theater, I learned not to judge a show by its title, as any dreamy acrobatics in this show must be left to the imagination.
Stav Meishar is the writer and star of The Dreamer and the Acrobat. Meishar, who was born in Israel and made her stage debut at the age of 10 on the Israeli National tour of Oliver!, certainly feels at home on stage. With short red hair and porcelain skin, donning a white blouse underneath a sweet red jumper, with opaque tights and little heels, her character Mallory, in appearance and with a resonant voice full of earnest longing, is, reminiscent of Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz, if Dorothy had opened a bakery and never gone to Oz.
The play takes place in Mallory’s bakeshop, and nowhere else, as Mallory is an agoraphobic, too terrified to leave her shop and experience the world outside of it. The shop is visited by a handful of supporting characters, which include Ethan and Aaron, a flamboyant gay couple, Melvin, who cares for animals, and Chaya’le, an elderly Jewish woman who raised Mallory. Carolyn Seiff is convincing as Chaya’le and gives depth to an underwritten part. Most of the action revolves around these four characters visiting Mallory’s shop, eating her baked goods, and giving her advice on life and love. When the circus comes to town and with it the acrobat Gitano, Mallory’s childhood best friend, with whom she is secretly in love, Mallory’s visitors collectively urge her to leave the shop to join the circus or tell Gitano how she really feels.
Mallory’s reasons for staying in her shop, and keeping us there with her for the entirety of the play, are vague until a later reveal, which I won’t spoil. While Meishar is committed and emotionally full as Mallory, her insistence on staying in her shop feels unwarranted, since we don’t yet know her reasons, and her resistance to leave, both literally and metaphorically, ends up stunting the play.
When left alone in her shop, an imaginary Gitano, baring a chiseled chest, visits Mallory. During one of these sequences, Mallory confesses her love for Gitano, and when she asks him for a response, he tells her, “It’s your fantasy; I will respond however you want me to.” This line stuck out to me, because it is within these fantasy sequences that the play carries a great deal of potential. However, director Rachel Klein doesn’t give Mallory permission to do anything in her fantasy sequences worth fantasizing about; instead, Mallory just talks about what she would like to do without actually doing any of it. What a missed opportunity for Mallory to shows us what life could be like outside of her shop, in the circus, or wherever else she wants to go.
In a brief but exciting transition, the actors clownishly moved the set around and gave us a taste of circus play. Richard Michael Lee, who plays Gitano, impressively balanced on a stool, and it made me wonder what other skills he has in his back pocket that were never utilized in the play. According to a note in the program, this production, given the FRIGID festival’s constraints, is a shortened version of The Dreamer and the Acrobat, and a future rendition will include live circus acts, puppets and more. Given Meishar’s obvious potential as a performer and budding playwright (this is her first play), I hope all the dreams she dares to dream really do come true in the next production.