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Regional Reviews: San Francisco

Adam Rapp's Latest Play Dreams Of The Salthorse Is A Nightmare

Also see Richard's recent review of House of Blue Leaves

The Encore Theatre Company is closing its 16th anniversary season with the World Premiere of Adam Rapp's surreal dream play Dreams of the Salthorse, playing through October 20th at The Thick House on Portero Hill in San Francisco. This is one of the most surrealistic plays I have ever seen. In fact, it is so bizarre I have no idea what was going on. Adam Rapp seems to be the new infant terrible of the American Theatre now what with several of his plays having been presented in New York, Pittsburgh and Chicago. Nocturne, starring Adam's brother Anthony, had its west coast premiere in Berkeley last season. Mr. Rapp's latest venture is a work in progress play and judging from what I saw last night, it needs a major overhauling.

Dreams of a Salthorse is about what the playwright describes as "capturing the moment of terror when a child becomes conscious that his father has left, never to return." Apparently, this playwright believes that the enormity of the transgression is a kind of a psychological flash point that can send one into a stage of perpetual emotional floating. This is what this 2 hour 15 minute with one intermission play is about. How Mr. Rapp goes about trying to put this on stage is anyone's guess.

The bizarre production is set in a land where love is the greatest crime. It is somewhere between the border of Texas and Mexico where fresh fields are now salt blight. Horses range the land, hence the word "salthorses." A man is propelled by a ferocious wind into this infertile world to face the horrifying events that interrupted his childhood. Words fly among the characters at terrifying speed. Much of the dialogue is not understandable. Long dissertations and short phrases about things that have no meaning are part of the dialogue. Needless to say, the playwright is trying to be a Beckett but he is not succeeding.

Dreams contains many weird characters, like a young nude mute who is blown through the door hanging on to a mysterious bundle; a headless man trying to make some sense of the play (actually he is a man running around with a gunny sack on this head); a love hungry hooker named Migdalia who speaks mostly in "Spanglish;" three bad guys in long, black, blood spattered cowboy garb who break out in arpeggio in the second act; a mother who used to be called Martha and now is called Tree (don't ask why) who sits around all day drinking something called double brew and sleep walks at night; and there is a tree called a Joke Tree where children are dumped. There is only static on the radio and a blue throb emanating from the television set. There is no currency and no food and wanted items are bartered for with sexual favors. Language has collapsed and all the characters speak in a delicate dream state. Put all of that together and you have an Adam Rapp play. Nope, it ain't Neil Simon.

The actors in Dreams of the Salthorse are very good with the limited script and dialogue given them. Most of the actors have good backgrounds, having appeared in New York, Los Angeles, Cleveland Playhouse, Louisville and London. Kimberly Richards is wonderful as the strident mother known as Tree. Melanie Pacemaker and Matt Roe beautifully play the intense gesturing mutes, Startla and Mister. Rick Aldridge is a fine actor, but is not able to capture the headless man's speeches convincingly.

Dream's set is an exceptional construction of an overgrown shack. The details are great on this small stage. The light design is outstanding. Direction by Sturgis Warner, who has worked extensively in New York, is splendid. Undoubtedly, all of the people involved in this production hope to bring this play to Off Broadway some day. However, it will need much major rewriting before that happens.

Dreams of the Salthorse plays through October 20 at the Encore Theatre Company at the Thick House, 1695 18th Street, San Francisco. For tickets call 415-821-4849 or visit

Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Richard Connema

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