Hot Sex and Solar Panels in the Mojave Desert

Elizabeth Frances and Brian TichnellEXPAND
Elizabeth Frances and Brian Tichnell
Photo by Ed Krieger

In concept, Stephen Sachs’ Dream Catcher at the Fountain Theatre is a timely play. Directed by Cameron Watson, it details a clash between a young engineer involved in designing a solar-energy plant that would help combat global warming, and a poorly educated Native American woman who objects to the project because it violates the sacred lands of her people.

The confrontation between Roy (Brian Tichell) and Opal (Elizabeth Frances) takes place under the beating sun in the Mojave Desert and is stoked by the hot sex they’ve been having since he picked her up at a local bar. Opal has chosen this spot for their face-to-face; her lover’s been immersed in his work and she, feeling ignored, has angrily texted him to meet her there, to apprise him of the handful of fossil fragments she’s uncovered. He’s jazzed when he arrives, and though puzzled that she’s summoned him to the middle of nowhere, he seizes the opportunity to enthuse about his up-and-coming career.

But in short order it becomes clear that Opal, who is fiery and attractive but insecure, is indifferent both to his ambitions and his explanation of the importance of the project. Her concern is with the past, with respect for her people’s traditions and with her personal identity as a Mojave woman, which acts as a salve for her feelings of worthlessness and lack of purpose in her life. She plans to broadcast her findings of human remains to various government agencies, a move that will at best stall, and at worst derail, the plant’s construction.

As an alarm call, Dream Catcher, which is based on a true event, has moments to commend it. At one point Roy tells Opal that life on Earth is on the brink of a sixth extinction — the only cataclysm so far that would be of our own making. The show’s best moments, for the drama and the performer, come when a frustrated Roy tries, and fails, to get this idea across.

Elizabeth Frances and Brian TichnellEXPAND
Elizabeth Frances and Brian Tichnell
Photo by Ed Krieger

Otherwise, the playwright’s intent to make the characters’ polarity a metaphor for conflict in the world at large is a bit too obvious to feel comfortable with.

One might have gotten past that, however, with a little pruning by Sachs and a better performance from Frances, whose high-pitched declaiming reveals little dimension and depth. Moments of truth are badly wanting here. Tichell’s self-absorbed white guy is glib but he is more convincing.

The other problem with this production is the director’s decision to stage it in the round. Perhaps other audience members had a better time of it, but I missed many a moment in this theatrical pas de deux when one of the two players spoke with their back to me (at times obscuring the face of his or her fellow performer). Staring at someone’s rear while trying to take in what they’re saying is simply too distracting.

Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., L.A., through March 21. (323) 663-1525, boxoffice@fountaintheatre.com.


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