A ‘Dream Girl,’ overwhelmed by her space with Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium

Brittany Holdahl in Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium's production of

Brittany Holdahl in Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium's production of "Dream Girl." (Photo courtesy of Johanna Austin/austinart.org)

In a story for The New Yorker in 1939, James Thurber created the character Walter Mitty, a man who lapses into fantasies during his everyday life. Six years later, the playwright Elmer Rice created the character Georgina Allerton, a woman who lapses into fantasies during her everyday life. Walter Mitty has lasted as a character many people know. Georgina Allerton has not.

The difference, I suspect, is quality: Thurber’s clever story is nuanced with unexpected turns and Rice’s play “Dream Girl” is – like Georgina Allerton, its main character — airheaded. But it can be amusing, and is at times in a staging from Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium that becomes more peppy as the 90-minute play moves along.

Alas, it does not get easier to understand inside St. Mary’s Church on Penn’s campus in West Philadelphia, where the neo-Gothic sanctuary undermines the production by providing an echo with every line. As a result, this “Dream Girl,” which should frequently be funny, is instead a strain to witness. I think I missed about a fourth of the show that played in front and on the side of me. (The production uses several parts of the area where the audience sits.)

The Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium is no stranger to different playing spaces – the company has no permanent home and has staged shows in many spots. Yet I’m not sure what, if anything, its leader Tina Brock could have done to smooth out the sound problem once she arranged with St. Mary’s to direct “Dream Girl” there. So my best advice is to get whatever you can from “Dream Girl” by context, which shouldn’t be too difficult given the play’s straight-ahead simplicity.

Not to be confused with the popular musical “Dreamgirls,” a whole other story, “Dream Girl” spans a day in the life of Georgina Allerton, a young aspiring novelist who works in a bookstore. She wanders into daydreams spurred by almost anything she runs across. She’s played by Brittany Holdahl, who uses her effusive voice and big eyes to bring Georgina nicely alive in a girlish 1940s way, and who moves easily from the real life of the play to the fantasy life of her character as fragments of Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” and other pieces mark the transitions.

There are many: A mad crush on her sister’s husband (played by Dexter Anderson), sends her into flights of fancy. When her sister (Anna Pysher) announces she’s pregnant, Georgina imagines the baby as twins, and as hers. When a guy who’s after Georgina (Brian McManus) invites her to a fling in Mexico, she transports herself there, mariachi band and all.

A night at the theater with a book critic (Kyle Fennie) – a shabby poseur who doesn’t read the books he reviews and is dead-set on becoming a sportswriter – gives Georgina an opportunity to tune out and consider herself as the main player on the stage. The critic may be a sham, but he’s the only one able to burst Georgina’s dream-bubble. “Dreaming’s easy,” he declares. “Life is hard.”

That’s the take-away of “Dream Girl.” The annoying sound aside, the production is directed stylishly by Brock, who also plays Georgina’s mother. Paul McElwee portrays her father and all together, the seven-member cast seamlessly takes on 32 roles, each well-defined by Erica Hoelscher’s costume design.

“Dream Girl,” produced by the Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium, runs through Feb 24 at St. Mary’s Church, 3916 Locust Walk, on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania. More information: dreamgirl.brownpapertickets.com.

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