When you enter the theater at Classic Stage Company—one of the Atlantic’s homes as it completes its mainstage renovation—for Dreams of Flying Dreams of Falling, you might check your program and confirm you’ve come to the right place. Surely the set, the dining room of a Connecticut manse, cannot belong to an Adam Rapp show. China gleams, fresh flowers glisten, the parquet floor sparkles.
Typically, Rapp’s plays take place in ramshackle cabins, sordid motel rooms, and unkempt apartments. To call them gritty risks libeling grit. With all the casualness of a diner squeezing relish on a hot dog, Rapp daubs his scripts with blood, semen, and feces. To observe Dreams‘ set, by Andrew Boyce and Takeshi Kata, is to know it can’t remain pristine for long. Sure enough, sperm and blood tarnish the table before evening’s end. (Small mercies: “Shit” appears only as verbal invective.) But at the play’s opening, the only fluids displayed are a carafe of Lafite and several fingers of Laphroaig.
The Cabots (Bert, Sandra, and their oddball daughter, Cora) have invited the Von Stofenbergs (Dirk, Celeste, and their son, James) to celebrate James’s return from a mental institution. Between courses, Cora (Katherine Waterston) collects arm hair for an art project, Canada geese dive-bomb the house, and a lion roars disconsolately in the basement. Sandra (Christine Lahti), enlisting the help of Dirk (Cotter Smith), also plans to murder her husband (Reed Birney) later in the evening.
If the set suggests an A.R. Gurney comedy, Rapp here favors Edward Albee territory, attempting a blend of cruelty and absurdism that feels forced and overwritten—a defanged satire, despite the wealth of animal imagery. Largely owing to the excellence of director Neil Pepe’s cast, there’s much to enjoy—the vitriol with which Lahti delivers her lines, how Smith can mingle torment and insipidness, Birney’s crooning of the Yale fight song. But these pleasures occur in the midst of a play constantly straining for effect. The action once breaks off for a clumsy sex scene, twice for the recital of a Shakespeare sonnet, three times for the display of animal corpses. Really, it’s enough to put you off dessert.