Sometimes a good idea just isn’t enough.
Take "Cocaine Dreams," a new play directed by Park Sloper Lissa Moira and written by Howard Pflanzer.
Subtitled "sex, drugs and Freud," "Cocaine Dreams" is billed as a "voyeuristic, surreal ride through one man’s obsession with Sigmund Freud, cocaine and a beautiful woman." The play, on stage now at the Kraine Theater in Manhattan, is made up of dream-like sequences that examine Freud’s personality through the prism of Vin Mariani or "Cocaine Wine." These scenes are intertwined with the woes of a young man (Tim Tolen), who is trying to kick his cocaine habit and keep his girlfriend (Andi Shrem).
But given Richard A. O’Brien’s tongue-in-cheek portrayal of Freud, Pflanzer’s obsession with Freud’s supposed obsession, and Moira’s over-exuberant use of Freudian symbolism and techniques, the play comes off as a sophomoric stab at Freud - his life, his work and his influence on modern-day psychoanalysis.
We all know Freud used cocaine, just as we know he smoked the cigars that eventually killed him. So what?
Pflanzer has apparently studied letters and articles Freud wrote during his years of cocaine use and come to the conclusion that Freud’s addiction with the drug was the pivotal factor in his relationship with his wife, Martha; daughter, Anna; mentor, Joseph Breuer; colleague, Wilhelm Fleiss; and protege, Carl Jung.
Why "Cocaine Dreams" also shows Freud as a transvestite, homosexual, lecher, hypocrite, liar and quack is anyone’s guess. At times the only thing O’Brien and Freud seem to have in common is a beard.
Throughout the play Jill Simon portrays "Coca" as a nymphet-muse who slithers across the stage, wrapping herself around Freud and others, while wearing the open-mouthed Marilyn Monroe smile of a women perpetually expecting a French kiss. After a while, one feels like giving her a good slap on the backside and sending her to the corner for a "time-out" so she can learn to behave herself.
The program gives Moira (a prolific director, writer and actor who starred in the Brooklyn-based Impact Theater’s first production in Prospect Heights) specific credit for "the character of Coca, who is the physical embodiment of cocaine." The playwright should be happy to relinquish his own authorship of this invention.
During the dream-like sequences, many famous people make guest appearances - Thomas Edison, Jules Verne, Henrik Ibsen. Did they know Freud? Use cocaine? Smoke cigars?
There’s also a starfish, a go-go girl and a dwarf. Personally, I liked best the scene in which three males impersonate Marlene Dietrich singing "Lily Marlene" - but that was mostly because Moira wisely used a recording of the divine Dietrich.
It must be admitted that much of "Cocaine Dreams" is rowdy good fun - in a frat house sort of way. In fact, the play falls flattest during its infrequent attempts at sobriety. Shrem’s entreaties aimed at getting her addicted boyfriend to mend his evil ways sound so much like soap opera it’s disappointing to realize Pflanzer was probably serious.
"Cocaine Dreams" has some clever writing, inventive direction and spirited acting. And Tammy McBride has contributed both outrageous and historically correct costumes. What "Cocaine Dreams" doesn’t have is discipline. If Pflanzer ever had a clear vision in his mind, it has certainly been lost in Moira’s over-the-top interpretation.
When the havoc onstage subsides, the confusion in the mind of the audience remains. Is "Cocaine Dreams" a cautionary tale for young people tempted by the hallucinatory and erotic possibilities of cocaine? Is it a debunking of Freud and the revelation of his theories as drug-induced fantasies? Is it a political statement about our overly moralistic drug laws? Is it a comment on the hypocrisy of condemning cocaine use but venerating the man who developed groundbreaking theories while using the drug? Is it all of these?
It’s always good when plays engender penetrating and perplexing questions. It’s even better when they give the audience some direction in finding the answers to these questions.
Anyone can see that the creators of "Cocaine Dreams" were having lots of fun during rehearsals. What isn’t so evident is what they were thinking. Some people may find this entertaining. For others, it’s merely frustrating.
"Cocaine Dreams" plays through March 3, Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8 pm and March 3 at 5 pm. Tickets are $15 and $10 students and seniors. The Kraine Theater is located at 85 E. Fourth St., between Second Avenue and Bowery in Manhattan. For reservations, call (212) 206-1515.