Sleeper pushes minimalist boundaries

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BY EMILY HOULIHAN
Alumna, Contributing Writer

Those of you who are not well- versed in the language of trucks may think a “sleeper” is a person who is sleeping, and consequently that Sleeper is about someone who sleeps too much or perhaps is afflicted with insomnia. This is not the case. “Sleeper” here refers to the part of a hauling truck that contains a bed, relevant because this whole play essentially takes place in a truck. I know nothing about trucks other than their size, but I was delighted to attend the New York debut of Sleeper on April 3, written by student Stephanie Bramson ’12 and starring alumna Christina Roman ’10 and Brooklyn actor Rocco Chierichella.

I have been going to Broadway shows for as long as I can remember, most of which contain elaborate set changes, a large cast of characters and show-stopping songs. Sleeper has none of these; the Manhattan Repertory Theater is too small to allow for much stage decoration, there are only two actors playing six characters, and no one sings. However, this is anything but a disadvantage. Without much to hide behind, the language and emotions of the play come to the forefront and demand to be given the attention they deserve.
Sleeper tells the story of Adam and Isabelle, two people who could not be more different, and their pasts.

Isabelle is an interstate trucker who has been on the road since she was sixteen. Adam has never left North Dakota, but has taken to the road in search of his wife Marie, who left him a few months ago. Isabelle is heavily sarcastic and tough and Adam is logical and good-natured. You’d think there was no way they could survive two days in an enclosed space, but the time together allows both to look at themselves through the eyes of the other and reach new conclusions, however reluctantly.

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I knew Roman and Chierichella were the right choices for the play when they made everyone laugh even before its first line. Roman skillfully bounces from vindictive to defensively vulnerable in her portrayal of Isabelle. Chierichella as Adam is a perfect foil; the character may be naïve and desperate, but Chierichella makes us root for him anyway, whether or not the audience wants him to be with Marie. Both actors’ comedic timing and ability to be serious without being cheesy serves them well, as their interactions are, of course, the sole material of the play. Roman and Chierichella seem to have so much fun playing off each other that such responsibility is not too heavy.

I am constantly amazed at how much can be done with so little space and other trappings in theater.
The stage is split into three sections, one each for the characters’ flashbacks, and one for their shared space in the present; the truck is represented by two raised chairs. Both Isabelle and Adam’s “sides” are helpful in that their use gives the audience a sense of where the action is happening, but ultimately the sets’ dressing is up to viewer imagination.

The same actors play other characters as well, although in those scenes only one of the principals is present.

Some may dislike this use of space and character, but I feel it allows the audience to focus better on the main character of that particular episode, rather than be divided between watching the deliveries and reactions of two actors.

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The characters’ journeys may also be controversial; whether or not they have made the right choices and if their endings are happy is for each person to decide. I read the first draft of Sleeper four years ago, have read a few more since, seen two different performances and still find that there is more to think about than meets the eye, which to my mind is an aspect of the very best plays whether on or off Broadway.

Questions? Email us: reporter@fandm.edu

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