Jarring thumps and an unnatural, sickly-colored sky are upending the high-priced calm of cocktail hour in a wealthy Connecticut enclave at the start of “Dreams of Flying Dreams of Falling,” Adam Rapp’s extraordinary, unsettling new play at the Atlantic Theater Company in Manhattan.
Although the words “Bernard Madoff” are never uttered, “Dreams” paints an apocalyptic vision of lives affected by the Ponzi schemer. Not only among the high-flying rich in whose dining room we spend the next 85 minutes, but among the disenfranchised as well.
Canada geese are bashing themselves against the windows of the expensively appointed home where Dr. Bertram Cabot (Reed Birney) and his wife Sandra (Christine Lahti) are having drinks with Bert’s best friend since Yale, Dirk Von Stofenberg (Cotter Smith).
Awaiting the arrival of Dirk’s wife, Celeste (Betsy Aidem), and grown son James (Shane McRae), recovering from a recent suicide attempt, Sandra flirts shamelessly with the virile Dirk (“I’ve always been so impressed with your physique”) in front of the passive Bertram.
She also corrects the pronunciation of the young woman serving them, whom Sandra refers to not as the maid, but as “kind of like our own little continuing-ed program. Berlitz French, state capitals, Shakespearean sonnets.”
It’s not until Sandra and Bert’s otherworldly daughter, Cora (Katherine Waterston) arrives -- in black, barefoot and vaguely wild-looking -- that things turn truly weird. She’s completing an “art project” that involves taking samples of arm hair and claims that a lioness is being kept in the basement near the billiards annex, the aquarium, the gym and the sauna.
Left alone for a moment, Cora asks Dirk, “You’ve had quite the lucky streak lately, wouldn’t you agree? All that business with everyone losing their money. The king of the jungle got caught, but somehow all the other animals got away scott-free.”
Neil Pepe urges with restraint his pitch-perfect cast through Rapp’s surrealistic trip, echoing Edward Albee and Len Jenkin, as the four adults careen toward an inevitable conclusion.
“Dreams of Flying Dreams of Falling” is so over-the-top you may be tempted to dismiss it as a cartoon. Be warned; it’s likely to linger with you, like a fever dream whose impact quietly expands in the hours after you’ve left the theater. I haven’t forgotten a second of it.
Through Oct. 30 at 136 E. 13th St. Information: +1-212-279-4200; http://www.atlantictheater.org. Rating: ****
A musical version of the Disney Company’s “Newsies” has been long aborning in the wake of the 1992 movie about the newsboys’ strike of 1899. That’s when street hawkers demanded decent pay from the publishers of papers put out by moguls including Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst.
Despite tunes by perennial Oscar winner Alan Menken, working with lyricist Jack Feldman, the movie was a flop in theaters. It went on to become a hit in home-viewing iterations.
Harvey Fierstein (“La Cage aux Folles”) has rewritten the book, Menken and Feldman added more songs, and the result is making its debut at the reborn Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, New Jersey.
It’s no “Lion King.” There’s not a memorable song in the lot, and the smiley-faced optimism may compel you to reach for the rotten tomatoes.
Still, it is good-hearted, pro-labor, paint-by-numbers family entertainment, with several exceptional things going for it:
Foremost is the exuberant choreography by Christopher Gattelli. Never mind that the boys break out in dance at the oddest times -- just after, say, they’ve been beaten to a pulp by the bosses’ thugs. The tap-dancing ensemble numbers are terrific.
Then there’s Tobin Ost’s imposing design, three massive girdered towers that act according to their own choreography and lend a scrappy urban feel to the proceedings, especially in the wonderfully variegated lighting by Jeff Croiter.
Finally, there’s the assured staging by Jeff Calhoun, a Tommy Tune protege. Working with an attractive cast led by Jeremy Jordan (who will play Clyde Barrow beginning next month on Broadway in Calhoun’s production of “Bonnie & Clyde”) as the boys’ ringleader, Calhoun paces the show fleetly. There’s talk of a move to Broadway. Catch it at the Paper Mill after a fall drive and save your money for family dinner.
Through Oct. 16 at 22 Brookside Drive, Millburn, New Jersey. Information: +1-973-376-4343; http://www.papermill.org Rating: **1/2
What the Stars Mean: **** Do Not Miss *** Excellent ** Good * So-So (No stars) Avoid
(Jeremy Gerard is an editor and critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)