Like a recurring dream that teeters between fantasy and reality, Insomnia has returned to the stage after a seven-year absence to plague John F. (Daniel Brooks) with doubt, delirium and deceit. Truly the author of his own misfortune, John’s life and loves disintegrate before our eyes and—as we squirm along in voyeuristic bliss with his Kafkaesque descent—into, finally, the longest sleep in the world.
The topically updated script is carefully constructed to deliver wave after wave of scenes in the frenetic life of John, largely through his relationships with wife Gwen (Fiona Highet devours the role effectively), his brother William (played with a magnificent blend of lechery and larceny by Randy Hughson), and his sister-in-law Kate (Colombe Demers, who keeps the ensembles moving forward with surety and panache). “The world as we know it needs changing,” but what does anyone know for certain?
The show’s centrepiece is John’s solo railing “protocols.” His kingdom, the “Republic of Doubt” is delivered stand-up style with more devastating passion than one-liners. It’s staged on a blood-red floor, which, emerging out of black, lets Brooks as author/actor soar far above the text, resonating with anyone who’s known the awful taste of despair. His “That’s all” (so at odds with Meryl Streep’s dismissive tone in The Devil Wore Prada) clearly, isn’t. With a simple piano line and wind in his ears, the sometime writer takes pencil to the floor to work out a proof to his problems. More and more pencils erase the writer’s block and lead to blessed sleep.
All of the elements combine to reinforce the ever-lurking dream/nightmare components of the writing. Director Chris Abraham lets his talented charges plumb the depths of the text, but, with his top-notch production team, captures the nuances of mood and the dynamic range of the mayhem in spectacular fashion. Witness Andrea Lundy’s lighting: from scene-changing bulbs-in-your-eyes power to the subtle and discreet baby-Lily window (the delicate mobile another nice touch). Richard Feren’s music and sound design add further depth: the tiresome opening loop is at one with sleep deprivation, later balanced by the charming cuckoo clock—only the unfortunately flat oboe spoiled the effect as new life appears in John F.’s false-front world.
“I’ve been thinking about love and how long it lasts.” By journey’s end, everyone on both sides of the footlights can identify with that notion. The beauty of this relationship dissertation is not in the words or situations as they transpire in the lives of the dysfunctional quartet, but rather how those scenes play in our own lives, kindling (or rekindling) whatever remains of the inner child within us all. JWR