Never the Train: That Poor Dream Goes Off the Rails


Metro-North’s commuter line from Grand Central to New Haven passes through some of the wealthiest suburbs and poorest cities in America. That Poor Dream, a “reimagining” of Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations by the Assembly Theater Project, takes place aboard an old-fashioned railroad car making this journey. Pip — Dickens’s rags-to-riches protagonist — now goes to Columbia and lives in an Upper West Side penthouse. He learns the truth about his anonymous benefactor en route to the leafy suburban dwelling of his hard-hearted love, Estella. (Actors’ roles are not specified in the program.) Video shows the locomotive’s progress, with towns and stations passing by.

This ensemble-created adaption goes off the rails, owing to the combined effect of glibness and earnestness. Part of the problem lies in the forced equivalencies: Affluent Fairfield County and struggling New Haven in 2014 aren’t the same as Victorian Britain, and the implied comparisons are gratingly simplistic. Like a lot of company-devised work, That Poor Dream (directed by Jess Chayes) suffers from flat dialogue and inert, unstructured scenes. And the young troupe has taken the most unsuccessful element of its previous show, home/sick — reality-TV-style confessions made by the performers, about themselves — and extended it here. It makes for a slow and frustrating journey.