Centerstage in Julia Jarcho’s new play, Dreamless Land—which she also directs—is a glossy white cube, floating over a square hole in the floor. As the performance unfolds, lights tint the mysterious box bright colors: rose, lime, ice-blue. We never glimpse what’s inside, and nothing emerges from the chasm below.
Jarcho’s play is much like this enigmatic box: inscrutable, intermittently intriguing, but so opaque that it’s hard to feel involved. As we follow the adolescence of Haley (Jenny Seastone Stern), scenes from suburban life mingle with fantastical film scenarios: a horror flick, a CIA thriller. The cube assumes new identities, becoming a television, a computer, a karaoke machine. Later, an adult Haley slogs through office life, scrambling to satisfy her fussy boss (Linda Mancini).
Tinkering with language, Jarcho juxtaposes everyday speech’s banalities—characters spout clichés, frequently pausing mid-sentence—with the grandiosities of movie dialogue. In a few satisfying sequences, characters veer into poetic descriptions of the Newfoundland wilderness, which is the location of the play’s final scene, and (I’m guessing) a symbol for escape from mundane realities.
These verbal tensions are interesting, and Jarcho’s production moves crisply. The excellent cast gives classic New York City Players performances, precise and deadpan. By the end, though, Dreamless Land feels like a formal experiment without a theatrical drive: If only Jarcho had followed her poetic impulses farther into unknown landscapes.