Dream Theatre Company presents the original work "Alligator," written by company member and founder Jeremy Menekseoglu. It is lauded as the tale of "a young girl's mind spin(ing) out of control as monsters...step out of her nightmares and into her waking reality."
"Alligator" truly is much more than that, giving the audience four characters whose lives intertwine as they combat their loneliness and seek their place in the world. The characters are intriguing and the acting quality, making it a worthwhile production to take in. However, at the end of the performance, I found myself not fully satisfied with the characters' stories, wishing that more development had taken place in conception and rehearsal.
Set in modern-day Texas, "Alligator" presents us with Velvet (Anna W. Menekseoglu), a young woman teetering on the brink of lucidity. She is haunted by an unnamed monster of a man (Hasket Morris), a dark and sinewy specter who looms over her in nightmares and whose menace keeps her on edge throughout her day. A chance encounter with a strange man Ben (Eric Barton) holds her interest just enough to call her back to him, and for a few moments, this lonely man and lonely woman make a tenuous connection.
Ben has a past, though, on parole from prison having committed a theft that inadvertently resulted in an innocent bystander's death. Between his limited availability (he must wear an ankle monitor and stay indoors when not at his job bagging groceries) and Velvet's constant of anxiety, a future together hardly seems feasible.
Enter into the picture Velvet's well-meaning but possessive older brother Lone (Jeremy Menekseoglu), an Olympic sharp-shooter. He and his gymnast girlfriend Cricket (Candace Kitchens) are en route to procure Velvet, intent on committing her to a mental institution. Their entrance into Velvet's world results in chaos, with Velvet becoming increasingly unstable and Ben hell-bent on rescuing her, perhaps from herself.
Lone refuses to offer Ben any sympathy or trust, and his anger balloons into a violent confrontation with Ben, who by now has defied his parole in an effort to help Velvet. And there is still the torment of Velvet's ghost. Who is he to Velvet, to Lone? What trauma in her past has driven Velvet to the brink of insanity, to self-harm? And is there really the promise of a future with Ben, or is this a figment of the landscape of Velvet's troubled mind?
Dream Theatre prides itself on pushing the envelope in its aesthetic, and "Alligator" is no exception. The scenes that give us entry into Velvet's anguish are taut and suspenseful, accentuated by video and sound effect. Dream's space is small, and the actors take strong advantage of this by offering the audience a clear view to each moment of their characters' sorrow, rage, heartache.
Often times, the actors speak directly at the audience, using them as additional characters to tell the tale (as opposed to maintaining the "fourth wall" between actor and audience). It is very effective at creating a sense of intimacy with the audience and is a signature technique in Dream Theatre's productions that I rarely see employed elsewhere.
All of these worthy elements to "Alligator" make it all the more disappointing that the characters were not more fully fleshed out. We know that Velvet and Ben are lonely with haunted pasts, but should there be more to their attraction than that? Why is Lone so distrustful of Ben, and how much of Velvet's tragedy is he aware of, and how much of it has affected him? Cricket is wonderful as comic relief, but surely there is more to this woman, having trained so vehemently to become an Olympian athlete, than to merely serve to provide a few laughs.
Nonetheless, "Alligator" is still a solid offering by a theatre company who remains a unique gem in Chicago storefront theatre. You can get canned entertainment anywhere, but for something special, all you have to do is Dream.
"Alligator" runs through Aug. 9 at Dream Theatre Company, 5026 N. Lincoln Ave. in Chicago. For information or tickets, call 773-552-8616 or visit www.dreamtheatrecompany.com