I Can't Sleep, Babe

Jessica Brickman's The Insomnia Play has a ring of familiarity to it. Its premise doesn't stretch too far: try as she might, Georgina (Julie Lake) cannot fall asleep. The more she tries, the worse she fails. Insomnia is pretty basic, and while it never exactly knocks on originality's door, it is far from one-note. Performed in repertory with the Babel Theater Project's other show, The Calamity of Kat Kat and Willie, Insomnia runs deeper than one might initially imagine.

Geordie Broadwater, who directs the show, infuses the production with a lingering sense of anxiety. Something lurks in Georgia's subconscious, and that is what keeps her awake during the one night that makes up the action of the show. This dread never abandons the production, despite much levity. Georgina's problem appears fairly normal and quotidian at first; she packs, she performs some exercises, she smokes.

Then, funnier things happen. As her boyfriend George (Ben Vershbow) writhes and moans in his sleep, she shoots him. However, he isn't dead; his noises merely subside to snoring. Stranger still, the Sandman (Drew Battles) enters the action, guiding a sheep named Doris (Diana Buirski). This is when Insomnia enters new, oddball territory, getting more absurd yet always following its own sort of logic. The Sandman constantly makes advances toward Georgina, who turns him down, while Doris constantly flirts with him. George also manifests himself as various figments of Georgina's delusions (or is he?), including Zorro, portraying various warriors fighting for Georgina's affection.

It is precisely that affection that plagues Georgina. These two seem to have found themselves in a rut; they have reached that plateau where infatuation has faded to routine, and Georgina doesn't quite know what to do about it. Lake does a magnificent job showing the effect this ambivalence has on her psyche. Georgina longs for more excitement (represented by the Sandman), but also wants to hold on to the security represented by someone like George.

Insomnia explores the cyclical nature of Georgina's predicament. Every time George rescues her in a fantasy, she doesn't feel safe; she feels too complacent and, almost against her better judgment, starts to fight with him. However, after a while the play wears a little thin. Within a half-hour, we understand the psychology Brickman has laid out for her protagonist; the rest just feels redundant.

What does save Insomnia is its humor. Doris and the Sandman go a long way toward buttressing this production. Far from a normal sheep, Buirski's Doris chews on the padded walls of Emily Carmichael's set (which make the whole bedroom seem like a cell) and even smokes. And Battles is quite wicked as the Sandman. It is a great example of scenery chewing.

Buirski also appears as Vana, Georgina's late mother, who speaks to Georgina as her own id. She tells Georgina all the things Georgina knows to be true about herself, and they are harsh truths. But is Georgina imagining her mother as she tries to get to sleep, or is it a dream?

Brickman and Broadwater keep the audience members on edge, reeling them in without giving too much information, until the end, about what is happening to Georgina. She seems to be at some sort of crossroads, but is it in her mind or in the bedroom? As a result, this play works on two levels: a basic, linear plot level, and a more psychological one. What is eating Georgina? I would never tell. But Insomnia gives plenty of food for thought.

Click for print friendly PDF version of this blog post