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CCM’s “Association of Controlled Dreamers” Shows the Power of Action

Review by Doug Iden of “The Association of Controlled Dreamers”: CCM Acting

What can a group of college students do to counteract a potential law that would jeopardize public education?  In a commissioned play torn from today’s headlines, CCM addresses that question in the premiere of “The Association of Controlled Dreamers” at the Cohen Family Theater.

The play includes themes of the role of public education, pandering to a select few, pros and cons of social media, friendship and the power of a group of idealists fighting for their rights.   The action proceeds in a semi-documentary manner with many of the actors talking directly to the audience.  Through that vehicle, you also hear the various viewpoints expressed and, even though it takes a while, the plot begins to enfold.

We are introduced to the Senator and his twin, named Twin, both played by Matt Fox.  As he explains his program to the audience, the Senator is dressed in conventional business attire while Twin is much more casual (so we can tell them apart). The Senator, who is barely old enough to qualify, has presented a bill in Congress that would virtually eliminate public education and replace it with a combination of alternatives including charter schools, etc.  However, Twin is vehemently opposed to the notion and works to upend the proposed legislation.  The Jekyll/Hyde conflict continues throughout the story.  

One of the students is researching a thesis on the power of dreams and establishes a group called the Association of Controlled Dreamers. The group is comprised of many members of the Student Union which gets wind of the Senator’s legislation.  They combine forces to confound the proposed law by staging a sit-in on the lawn of the Senator.

This is the point where the train leaves the track a little.  I’m not sure whether it’s my failure as a critic or the playwright’s somewhat muddled prose or rather loud piano music (or a combination of all three) but I was not able to connect some of the actors with their character’s names in the playbill. Therefore, I can not give proper credit to some of the roles other than naming the following actors:  Rin Wallace, Anastasia Jacques, Paige Jordan, Zoe Cotzias, Michelle Jardine, Jason Pavlovich and Reid Robison.  All of the above were involved in the student demonstrations.  

Despite the serious themes addressed, there is a comedic whimsy about the show as the students weigh their philosophical principals against the real possibility that they may flunk out of school by missing final exams. Most of the comedy was obvious but, occasionally, I missed the jokes.  I must be getting old.  One interesting parallel was the dichotomy of social media as both a device for communicating to everyone but also showing how intrusive and sometimes destructive it can be. Briley Oakley (as Social Media) highlights these issues as she announces TV news-reporter style.  The story is also about friendships that can be forged during controversy.  Spending over a week on someone’s lawn in sleeping bags and no conveniences can create odiferous conflicts.  

One poignant sidelight is the introduction of the senator’s mother (Amanda Nelson) who is living in a shabby apartment while trying to unite the twins.

Director Brant Russell has meshed these stories well by choreographing entrances and exits from the sides, the back and the balcony. The set (designed by Ellie Fangman) is minimalist but effectively uses props such as a desk, chairs and sofas with the mother’s dreary apartment covered by a curtain.  In the back center of the stage is a door which, during the demonstration, becomes the battleground for the righteous students on the outside versus the power-crazy senator inside.  There is some original music by Daniel de Groh although it tends to drown out some dialogue.  There is an effective sound cue with the cell phone rings.

Overall, I thought the themes were intriguing and well-delineated with the usual superb acting of the CCM students but I thought the play needed some more work.  I was somewhat disappointed by the ending.  However, it was a good effort and I encourage you to see the show.