The idea behind Toronto Fringe Festival entry Innocent When You Dream, a one-man show by Texan performer Zeb West, is certainly interesting. What would a man get up to if he found himself stranded in the innards of a whale with no literature to keep him company but copies of Don Quixote and Moby Dick? What would it reveal?
However, despite an interesting starting point and some great performances by West, Innocent When You Dream doesn’t develop much beyond this premise.
The play does start out strong. A disheveled sleeper (named Jonah, as it happens) awakens to greet the audience into his unlikely home and proceeds to explain how the only thing keeping him lucid, if not quite sane, are the copies of the classic novels that he has miraculously found. With the help of some props and a puppet, Jonah proceeds to talk about these novels. It turns out that for Jonah, these two very different novels ultimately tell of thwarted desire, of the courtly desire of Don Quixote for his unknown Dulcinea and the rather more non-standard obsession of Ahab for the whale. He then proceeds to reenact select scenes.
Later, it emerges that Jonah is a man with his own thwarted desire, stranded at least metaphorically by the end of a relationship with a woman he still loves. What can Jonah do to save himself in either scenario?
My problem with the play is that it’s confused about what it’s trying to do. Is Innocent When You Dream a straightforward fantastical narrative about how a man stranded in a whale could keep himself entertained? Or, is it an extended metaphorical examination of how people can find themselves stuck and trying to rebuild after a relationship ends?
The starting point of the play could lead to some interesting explorations. How, constructively or otherwise, can anyone figure out what they can do to feel happy again after a personal shock? Innocent When You Dream doesn’t decide what it’s going to do at all and towards the end becomes an awkwardly overlapping pair of stories differing in style and tone.
I did really enjoy West as a performer. His animated performance, as well as his multiple talents in everything from hand-puppetry to the ukelele, helped carry the play a long way. The set design, minimalistic yet evocative, was also inspired.
Unfortunately, these talents can’t compensate for the confused script of Innocent When You Dream, somewhat frustratingly considering what could have been done.
Innocent When You Dream is playing at the Robert Gill Theatre, 214 College Street. Access to the theatre is via the building’s St. George Street entrance.
Sunday July 7 – 9:15 pm
Monday July 8 – 8:45 pm
Tuesday July 9 – 2:45 pm
Thursday July 11 – 7:00 pm
Friday July 12 – 12:30 pm
Saturday July 13 – 1:45 pm
- Individual Fringe tickets are available at the door for $10, cash only. Late comers will not be permitted.
- Advance tickets are $11 ($9 + $2 service charge) are available online at fringetoronto.com, by phone at 416-966-1062 ext 1, or in person during the festival at the Festival Box Office in the parking lot behind Honest Ed’s (581 Bloor St W).
- Value packs are available if you plan to see at least 5 shows.
Photo provided by the company