On a black stage covered with stars and whirling planets, bad '80s disco plays as the lights rise on a woman in a dapper suit speaking in an earnest yet rambling run-on. "I don't know where I'm going, but I'm driving really fast ... I'm nearly blind ... dissolve to yesterday ...." As the soliloquy of trailing images and vague innuendo drones on, we learn that this woman is plagued by a peculiarly postmodern angst: She's "deep" but lost in a superficial world! Though we know little about this woman's past and less about her present, we already understand the parameters of Neena Beber's play Tomorrowland: the confessional post-therapeutic journey.
After arriving at her new job as a screenwriter for a children's sitcom filmed in Orlando, Anna spends much of her time brooding about the meaning of life in the most tendentious, convoluted terms. She rants about the use of parentheses in George Eliot and Virginia Woolf. She drops clunky hints about the recent death of a drug-addicted college boyfriend. We listen; we wince; we long for the next scene on the sitcom set.
This is ironic, because Beber -- via Anna's long-winded commentary -- spends a lot of time trying to convince us of the psychological and spiritual emptiness of that set. While this may be an extrinsic truth, it is oddly untrue of the world she creates. She fixes characters breast-fed on Hollywood cliches with a wickedly satirical yet empathetic eye. Vicki, the sycophantic assistant, recounts a peak experience playing Snow White at a corporate event in Japan. Del and her teen-age son, Rodger -- who has been corresponding with Emily, the star of the kids show -- are devoted enough to have traveled across the country out of concern for her. And Emily herself, an intelligent, budding 14-year-old, wants to escape the television bedroom that keeps her 12, flat-chested, and inane.
Only the well-meaning but self-obsessed heroine wrestles with cliches and loses. Perhaps Beber created a character too close to her own image. (Beber spent time as a writer in children's TV.) A victim of too much literary criticism and psychoanalysis, Anna reveals her desires in muddled, self-pitying verbosity. Moments of revelation spring from the excruciating, unending process of self-analysis. In the end, her revelations don't involve us; the problems are just too myopic. We hope Anna will get over herself, but we'd rather not witness the whole gruesome spectacle.
Director Reid Davis paces the production with panache and lyricism, wringing the best from his buoyant, talented cast. Carolyn Doyle is riveting with her chillingly committed Vicki. Janna Sobel poignantly nails the bursting angst of an overgrown child star. Unfortunately, in her rather straight-ahead interpretation of Anna, Eowyn Mader compounds rather than dispels the problems inherent in her character. (Though how many actresses can pull off monologue after monologue or the meaning of parentheses?) Like the solar-system stage with its central spinning orb, plays revolving around a single character need that character to provide momentum, heat, and an organizing principle. Despite all the bright elements spinning in its orbit, Tomorrowland has a black hole where the sun should be.