2016-03-30 / Arts & Entertainment News

‘A Sleeping Country’ is not quite the wake-up call it could be

ARTS COMMENTARY

There’s nothing like falling into a comfy bed at the end of the day and sinking into a sweet, delicious, deep sleep.

But for Julia (Cheyenne De Barros) in “A Sleeping Country,” sleep has been elusive. When we first meet her, she’s writhing on the living room couch, sleep once again evading her for another night.

The Naples Players sound designer Bradley Van Houten works his magic here, amplifying the night sounds you hear when you can’t sleep: the endless ticking of a clock, a dripping faucet, a neighbor’s barking dog, a car alarm set off.

Julia sees a psychiatrist, Dr. Midge (Alyssa Lee) for her insomnia, but the doctor is in even worse shape: She’s narcissistic, misuses prescription drugs and alcohol, sleeps around indiscriminately and is a gambling addict with such high debts she’s banned from Atlantic City.

On stage in the Tobye Studio at the Sugden Community Theatre in Naples, the play by Melanie Marnich is slight, a trifle. Its comedy is uneven, due partially to the script and partially to the acting. Ms. Lee looks too young to have three degrees from three different Ivy League schools. Her character appears to have boundary issues, but it’s later explained that therapist and patient are childhood friends, having known each other since second grade. (Still, aren’t there rules about not counseling family and friends?)


Above: Insomnia-ridden Julia (Cheyenne De Barros) and Isabella Orsini (Bonnie Knapp) along with Franco (Ty Landers) look on as Carlotta (Alyssa Lee) has no trouble sleeping. 
COURTESY PHOTOS Above: Insomnia-ridden Julia (Cheyenne De Barros) and Isabella Orsini (Bonnie Knapp) along with Franco (Ty Landers) look on as Carlotta (Alyssa Lee) has no trouble sleeping. COURTESY PHOTOS Under the direction of Jessica Walck, this production of “A Sleeping Country” seems to be in search of its tone, uncertain what is should be.

Ty Landers plays Greg, Julia’s long-suffering, soap-opera writer fiancé. He stays up all night watching TV with her when she can’t sleep, but her insomnia has taken a toll on him and their relationship.


Right: Midge, the sexy psychiatrist (Alyssa Lee) embraces her insomnia-ridden friend Julia (Cheyenne De Barros) Right: Midge, the sexy psychiatrist (Alyssa Lee) embraces her insomnia-ridden friend Julia (Cheyenne De Barros) The two actors are sweet together, creating a believable couple with chemistry.

Julia finally learns about something called Fatal Familial Insomnia, a genetic disease of one particular Orsini family in Italy. She wonders if her own insomnia is related, as her grandmother’s maiden name was Orsini.

So, she goes to Italy to see if she has the same DNA, even though doing so won’t bring her any closer to a cure.

She travels with a suitcase stuffed with various prescription drugs from her therapist. (“Pill ’em all. That’s what we’re trained to do,” says Dr. Midge.)

If she can’t find a cure her insomnia, Julia plans on downing all the pills.

The play livens up considerably when Isabella Orsini (Bonnie Knapp) joins the action at the end of Act I. She’s a larger-than-life dramatic woman whose heavily accented dialogue tends toward the scatological.

Ms. Knapp is entertaining and funny in the role, and she plays it to the hilt.

In addition to Julia’s boyfriend, Mr. Landers also plays Franco, Isabella’s manservant, and Carlo, her flirty son. (He’s especially great as the noble Franco, who anticipates his employer’s every need.)

Ms. Lee, too, has other roles, as Mrs. Orsini’s daughter, Carlotta, and a gondolier.

“A Sleeping Country” is a strange play that hits the mark sometimes and misses other times.

There’s a great joke about how ubiquitous the “Law & Order” series is on TV, and another about how not only listening to Kenny G didn’t cure insomnia, but Yanni didn’t either.

The show also contains a funny aural montage of TV ads and shows heard while Julia channel surfs and, prior to the play’s opening, a wonderful soundscape of New York City, with car horns, the mechanical roar and squeal of the subway, the hiss of a city bus braking, footsteps on the sidewalk.

One interesting section of the play occurs when Mrs. Orsini and Julia create a “list of frights,” things in today’s world that frighten them.

Ms. Walck writes in her director’s notes: “… What if the real problem was that we didn’t know how to deal with our own problems? That we were unaware of the fears and anxieties that live in our own subconscious? That we were sleeping through life, rather than facing our own truth every day and dealing with it head on?”

The play, though entertaining and clever at times, does not make you feel satisfied or triumphant at the end. It feels more like a one-act work, although it’s presented in two.

The space where it’s performed is also configured strangely, with seats arranged in a way that seems to crowd the small stage. The sightlines are horrible; I changed my seat before the show began (it’s general seating) and noticed at least six other people doing so as well in hopes of having a decent view of the stage.

There’s also only one aisle at stage left available by which to reach the seats, rather than the typical aisle up the middle of the rows.

The set by Connor Munion serves as Julia and Greg’s living room, Dr. Midge’s office and Mrs. Orsini’s home. It’s very symmetrical and gray, with three archways on both sides and a catwalk/balcony in the middle. It’s not magical at all. It looks more like an Italian home than a New York City apartment or a therapist’s office.

I wanted to like this play so much more than I did.

“A Sleeping Country” does contain some funny lines and scenes and the kernel of a potentially terrific play. But unfortunately, it’s not enough to jar us out of our daily sleepwalking through life. ¦

‘A Sleeping Country’

>> When: Through April 16

>> Where: The Tobye Studio at the Sudgen Community Theatre, Naples

>> Cost: $30 general admission, $10 for students 21 and younger

>> Info: 263-7990 or naplesplayers.org

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