‘This is Our Town . . . but with more sophisticated conversation,” says a performer in Mitchell Polin’s The Joys of Fantasy. Unfortunately, Polin’s creation—collaging Thornton Wilder’s American classic with a slew of other texts—isn’t actually Our Town at all, but a jumble of faux-experimental fragmentation and twee aphorisms.
Polin has eclectic literary tastes: Besides Wilder, he borrows from Haruki Murakami, Italo Calvino, and the Chicago troupe Goat Island. Elisa Griego’s set—clusters of wooden chairs, layers of overlapping rugs, telephones, and light bulbs everywhere—suggests a beloved living room seen through a prism, scattering slivers of home. Wooden ladders offer perches for a chorus of Wilder-esque Stage Managers.
It’s a shame that these ingredients don’t produce more exciting theater, but there are glimmers of artistic purpose: The play meditates on the difficulties of human communication, and measures the distance, literal and spiritual, between Grover’s Corners and New York City; a wisp of narrative follows an actress’s confrontation with her boyfriend’s kidnapper.
Mostly, though, The Joys of Fantasy dissolves into inane observations on mortality, self-esteem, and love. Moody electric guitar, played live by the band Tungsten74, washes the room in pallid ambient noise, and the cast oozes amateurish sincerity, tripping over their lines, their emotions, and the furniture. Maybe a good stage manager could set things straight.