THE DREAMER EXAMINES HIS PILLOW, Circle Theatre. John Patrick Shanley’s giddy comedy of unsure lovers and their equally clueless parents lends itself to such a wide variety of interpretations that every production seems to spring from a different script–a quality that probably accounts for its popularity among young theater artists.

Circle Theatre’s production opens with a scene of such squalor and nihilistic passion that we almost think we’ve stumbled into Sam Shepard territory. The reclusive Tommy and aggressive Donna seem less squabbling sweethearts than poster children for Future Serial Killers of America. Fortunately the next scene introduces Donna’s hard-drinking dad, whose eccentric wisdom restores a sense of Shanley’s optimism, making for a satisfying second act.

The uneven tone seems more attributable to Melissa Meloro’s laissez-faire direction than to any deliberate subtextual choices. Indeed, as played by Melissa Briskman and Sorin Brouwers, Donna and Tommy are chiefly characterized by their almost total absence of recognizable human connection. But Calvin Haines finds the intrinsic humor and pathos in the role of Dad, as well as opportunities to connect physically and psychologically with his fellow players; elevating every scene in which he appears, Haines allows Brouwers to break free of the faceless classroom-exercise conventions that dominate the first act. Together they generate sufficient chemistry to reward audience members patient enough to return after intermission.

–Mary Shen Barnidge