Highly-charged subject matter, dynamic performances, and enough sexual heat to match the highest temperatures in the Mojave Desert spark Stephen Sachs’ thought-provoking Dream Catcher, now electrifying audiences in its World Premiere engagement at the Fountain Theatre.
Things start out already at a fever pitch, an energy level that scarcely flags over Dream Catcher’s brisk eighty minutes as young engineer Roy (Brian Tichnell) and his Native American lover Opal (Elizabeth Frances) battle it out atop the desert sands, the sun beating down from above.
Roy has come to the Mojave to help with the construction of a major solar energy plant whose goal is to stem the tide of global warming, and if his steamy affair with Opal has been a collateral benefit, her arrival today brings news that could mean the immediate shutdown of the billion-dollar project and the hastening of the devastation already being wreaked by climate change.
Opal has, she claims, been inspired by a dream to go searching for Native American artifacts buried under the desert sands, and the bits of bone she pulls out of her jeans pocket are, she insists, the remains of an ancient burial site.
Since U.S. law would seem to forbid the desecration of Native American soil, Roy must convince Opal to stay mum about her discovery, one whose very veracity he questions given the unlikelihood that his lover’s dream would turn up artifacts that million-dollar government surveys have not.
Just how open and aboveboard has the university-educated Roy been in embarking on a torrid affair with a young woman one suspects might not even have finished high school?
In a world in which almost anyone’s private life has been made public property on Facebook, could it be that Opal is less than sincere in her insistence that it’s all about respect for her people and her culture?
Are these questions mere red herrings in a play whose primary goal might well be raising public awareness of a sixth Great Extinction already in progress?
One thing is certain. Under Cameron Watson’s incisive direction, Cal Arts alums Tichnell and Frances deliver powerhouse performances that never quit, their palpable chemistry only adding to the excitement and authenticity of their work.
Watson has opted to stage Dream Catcher in the round, with all the plusses and minus that this implies.
On the positive side, scenic designer Jeff McLaughlin’s simple but effective set (a stageful of sand surrounded by a 360-degree sky) gives the production a you-are-there quality that traditional staging might not.
In the minus column, arena staging means the distraction of seeing the faces of half the audience throughout the show. (What you see in production stills is not what you actually get.) There’s also the risk that one actor will block another, though Watson does make sure that Tichnell and Frances rarely remain stationary for too long a time.
Lighting designer Luke Moyer does a terrific job of simulating a burning desert sun. Peter Bayne’s sound design is a wonder (cell phone rings that come right from a pants pocket, desert animal cries, and mood-setting original music). Terri A. Lewis’s pair of costumes tell us much about Roy and Opal from first sight. Terri Roberts’s props are just what Sachs’ script calls for.
Dream Catcher is produced by Simon Levy and Deborah Lawlor. James Bennett is associate producer. Alana Dietz is assistant director. Emily Lehrer is production stage manager. Scott Tuomey is technical director.
To previous Fountain Theater smash hit two-handers (I And You, Bakersfield Mist, And Her Hair Went With Her, to name just three) can now be added Dream Catcher. Expect to be on the edge of your seat from start to finish.
The Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., Los Angeles.
February 1, 2016
Photos: Ed Krieger