Gregory G. H. Rihn (milwaukeesfs) wrote,
Gregory G. H. Rihn

Boswell's Dream

This has been a month for live theatre. Get a break from rehersal, and what do we do? Go to a play! We had good Friday off, and caught one of the last performances of Renaissance Theatre Works production of the new play "Boswell's Dream," based upon the writings of diarist and biographer James Boswell and the (possibly) historical circumstances surrounding the discovery of a huge cache of his personal papers in postwar Scotland. Although justly famous as a biographer for his "Life of Johnson" and his journal of the trip to the Hebrides, Boswell was not wel respected due to his libertine ways and low tastes.

"Boswell's Dream" is a new play by a local playwrite, and open with Boswell's arrival in London, where his "hick" ways do not overcome his engaging personality's ability to gain acquaintance with famous authors, actors, and artists--as well as numerous women. His "dream" is to meet the famous "Dictionary" Johnson, and the play shows us how this might have happened. The play structure has dreams within dreams, as we are shown angry messages from Boswell's censorious father as dream sequences, among others. The only flaw with this is that it permits the stage crew overuse of the trite device of fake fog to indicate dream states.

In the second act, the timeline shifts to 20th-century Scotland, where American univerity researchers are hot on the trail of Boswell's literary trove not for it's own sake, but in hopes it might hold new Johnson material. Conflict breaks out here, as Johnson's heirs aren't wild about unleashing his scandalous memoirs, the uptight professor in charge of the expedition doesn't see the value in Johnson's journals, and initially only his graduate assistant holds out for bringing them to light. This is where the real drama of the play begins, and, as new work, I could say needs polishing. There is a lengthy scene in the second act which sharply contrasts the vapidity of the modern people with the intellectually glittering group that surrounded Johnson, which goes on too long in my opinion. The play is essentialy two plays: the first act, in which the modern people are mere shadows, and the second half, in which Boswell and Johnson are more present but still mainly "dreams". I think if I were re-writing this show I would have intertwined the two plots more evenly.

Very nice performances by Brian J. Gill as Boswell, Brian Robert Mani as Johnson, Cathleen Madden as Joan Weinstein, and a solid cast playing multiple roles in both centuries.
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