Review: The Dreamer Examines His Pillow (Column 13)

Explore the surreal with The Dreamer Examines His Pillow, playing at Toronto’s Unit 102 Theatre

The Dreamer Examines His Pillow is currently on stage at Toronto’s cozy Unit 102 Theatre. Column 13 has brought this play to stage. Unit 102 Theatre is a perfect venue for The Dreamer Examines His Pillow. Without a little background, you could easily think that the play was written for the theatre.

The Dreamer Examines His Pillow has three characters: Tommy, Donna and Dad.  The three are far closer to people that we know in real life than the ones we have to put up with on television. The issues they grapple with are universal and important. There is a connection between cast and audience. All this makes for a play that its audience can relate to. I certainly did.

Tommy (Robin Cunningham) is a washed up dreamer at 27. Donna (Vesna Radenkovic) is Tommy’s girlfriend who is quite literally “madly in love” with Tommy.

Tommy is a derelict, living in a rundown apartment, and quite happy living in the abyss and squalor that he has created for himself. The character is quite sad, actually, a young man determined to live a hideous lifestyle we often equate with substance abuse. Cunningham does a good job making Tommy seem pathetic but not beyond hope. He’s pathetic, but not entirely without hope.

Rounding out the fine cast is John Healy as Donna’s dad. Healy is a veteran of Toronto Fringe, and his “immediacy,” his experience with that festival really pays dividends here. He has an urgency and energy that is quite intoxicating, honest and immediate

Dad is closer to the end of his quite eventful life than he is to its beginning. A former painter, he also enjoys his adult beverages. He’s Donna’s sounding board and offers a lot of wisdom and strength to her.

Tommy and Dad take honest looks at themselves through painting and drinking. They are more or less the same person on opposite ends of the life cycle.

At times the play has a dream-like quality, bordering on surreal, but it is always powerful, thoughtful and intense. There were a couple of times when I had flashbacks of conversations I’ve previously had with maniac “street poets”. The play has a “drunken honesty” quality that I really enjoyed.

The play was written by John Patrick Shanley in 1985. Shanley is an accomplished writer, his script for Moonstruck having won an Academy Award. He also wrote and directed the 1990 cult movie and box office flop Joe Versus the Volcano. In The Dreamer Examines His Pillow, Shanley doesn’t dive headfirst into the territory that William Burroughs mined so well, but he does test those waters with his big toe.

Though the play is perhaps overwritten in parts, I found the character Donna authentically written and extremely well performed by Vesna Radenkovic. Radenkovic commands the stage when she is on it. At times I felt more like she was more possessed by the character than she was acting. Radenkovic really does a splendid job. She had me recalling girls from my youth, mostly my sister and her friends, the overly emotional and passionate ones.

The Dreamer Examines His Pillow is the kind of play I enjoy. It features minimal staging and relies upon its writing and actors. This is a play that succeeds or fails depending on the performances of the three actors. In this case, I am happy to say, this mounting of The Dreamer Examines His Pillow passes with flying colours.

The Dreamer Examines His Pillow is presented as a one-act play but could easily be performed with an intermission. We see two different sides of Dad, and I loved both.

If there is anything I disliked about this play it’s that more people need to see it. I strongly recommend heading down to Queen and Dufferin to see this amazing work of art.


Opening: Tuesday, May 14 – 8:00pm
Thursday, May 16 – 8:00pm
Saturday, May 18 – 2:00pm
Monday, May 20 – 8:00pm
Wednesday, May 22 – 8:00pm
Friday, May 24 – 8:00pm
Saturday, May 25 – 8:00pm

  • Tickets are available at the door, by phone at 416-563-0048 or by email at

One thought on “Review: The Dreamer Examines His Pillow (Column 13)”

  1. Why not mention Doubt (which Shanley wins a Pulitzer for writing and then adapts and directs as a film) instead of Joe Versus the Volcano?

    And I don’t understand how the reviewer thinks this play is written for the space, since he never returns to that point. But I think it would have been an interesting one to talk about instead of Shanley’s past credits.

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