Review by Bob Greene
It gets very tiring watching film and plays about actors and how everyone is happy at the end and the struggle is all worth it blah blah blah. Thank goodness for the honesty of Rollin Jewett in his play, The Big Dream.
Opening directly after a cruel breakup – Jack, a working but not famous actor, finds himself reexamining his life and his choices, sharing his adventures with a humorless therapist hoping to find out the answer to an unasked question. However, almost immediately, we sense something is wrong. Something(s) just don’t seem real.
Jack opens his heart and mind and shares his life – but is it really his life or is he exaggerating? Soon, we stop wondering if he is merely exaggerating or if he is lying? Soon we wonder if he or the entire scenario even exists at all. We reach a disturbing ending that asks us what is real and who’s in charge of it.
Jewett gives us a humorous script filled with twists and turns leaving us unsettled but certainly fulfilled at the end.
Directed by Jay Michaels, the play offers up a liberal use of site gags. Everything from vaudeville schtick to immersive forays into the audience during the show. He couples these outward bits of physicality and verbal comedy with a substile natural touch with regard to pacing and tone. One minute we laugh at the humor then we question whether it happened at all.
The ensemble cast is led by Matt Frenzel as Jack. Frenzel was superb in his choices. Not some boob, but simply an innocent soul on the roller coaster of life. His comedic timing was also spot-on and yet – subtle. Donna L White as the therapist served as the perfect straight woman for Jack, offering exquisite lead-ins. White, effortlessly, went from a disconnected doctor to devils advocate to something even more sinister right before our eyes. As Jack’s had-enough girlfriend, Zara Zeidman was truly entertaining. As both the real girlfriend and Jack’s fantasy girlfriend, she offered-up fully realized characterizations. Her truly remarkable stage presence filled the rather large stage easily.
An inspired casting choice was Sara Minisquero. Playing Jack’s childhood best friend. Sara set the pace for the illusions the show offered up. The part – one might expect to be played by a man – was that much more engaging as a woman. Minisquero played it like a tomboy smitten with Jack, offering many Freudian hypotheses as to their relationship. Or maybe she was a boy and Jack saw a girl he can deal with? Another character calls her a boy at one point in the show, so we might then ask if the character was all in Jack mind.
Rose Zisa, Anthony Diaz, and Andrew J. Koehler, served as Jack’s family and other denizens of Jacks mind. Of Zisa’s many enjoyable moments, her grade school teacher was particularly flawless. Diaz and Koehler played off of each other well as siblings and displayed versatility as everyone from cowboys to the homeless.
Supplying the opening to the play’s unique climax were Michael Pichardo and Melissa Ford as two big business cogs offering cordial distain at Jack’s career as an actor. Pichardo and Ford were like a millennial Carol Burnett and Harvey Korman, mastering the comic cleverness of the lampoon. A lot of fun.
Jewett – a writer of suspense and fantasies – bestowed a script that marched hand-in-hand with Michaels’ gallows humor style of direction and the Saturday Night Live style scene/skit work of the talented cast to hand the audience one of those episodes of Night Gallery meant to make you laugh.
No set or costumes are credited in this bare-bones production but Callie Stribling’s lighting choices making each scene look like a political cartoon in the The Daily News was quite clever.
If this play had been done any other time it would be a really top-notch entry into any festival or series. Thanks to Michaels’ staging of each cast member emerging from the audience “back on to” the stage, The Big Dream, one of the first shows to reopen New York, is historic. Almost like a ritual of the artists leaving the obscurity of the pandemic and reemerging to bring art once again.
The play was filmed by cinematographer, Nick Crispino, so streaming options might be in the future of this one-shot performance.