Cry for equality: 'Dream of a Common Language'
In today’s world, it is easy for one to become so saturated in the arts that genuinely being moved by a production becomes increasingly rare. The plot or characters may seem all too familiar and the story itself becomes of little consequence. Therefore, it is refreshing to come across a production like director Jennifer Hart’s take on the Heather McDonald play “Dream of a Common Language,” which began its run this past Friday, Oct. 5 at Hofstra University.
The narrative is thoroughly compelling and the subject matter serves as almost a commentary on the current state of our country. The play, based on a real occurrence, follows a collective of female painters who are not invited to a dinner party held by their male contemporaries. They are instead relegated to the garden, where they set about amusing themselves while silently fuming over their lack of invitation. The male characters hosting the party serve to expose the various issues with the patriarchy and the volatile nature of men as a whole. It is difficult to separate the 1874 dynamic of the play from the experience of women today, especially on the heels of the immensely controversial confirmation of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.
A central focus of the play is to expose the ridiculous notion that women are somehow inferior to men. The vibrant Pola (Judy Streib) is indignant that her presence is not allowed at the all-male dinner, noting to the party’s host, Victor (Nick Hoult), that her paintings are of equal, if not better, stature to those of her male peers. Her protests fall on deaf ears, further exposing the ambivalence of males. Dolores (Lisa Humfelt) somewhat begrudgingly accepts her role, trying to make the best of the garden party with confections and joyous party games. In the case of Clovis (Caroline Orlando) there is not rage but grim acceptance. She was once a painter herself, before her paintings were shamelessly mocked by male painters at an exhibition, an event that caused her to burn down her studio.
These emotions come to a head in the play’s finale, which sees the key male characters, Victor and Marc (Ethan Marble), relinquishing their gender-specific dominion by discarding formal attire for varying degrees of nakedness. Clovis had asked each man in turn to pose for her first nude painting, a role characteristically held by women at the time. The idea of a male undressing to be in front of the canvas was unheard of, a fact that further exposes the bizarre cultural dos and don’ts between the sexes. The audience’s window into the truly abhorrent nature of this gender divide is Mylo (Sam Kaufman), Victor and Clovis’ son, whose youthful innocence is juxtaposed with the often self-centered views of his elders.
“Dream of a Common Language” is a deeply feminist piece that finds its message solidified in the glorious performances of its cast. It is an emotionally raw performance well suited to the continued efforts towards gender equality. This is dramatic work at its finest.