'Dream Man's' lonely tale is still timely

Special to The Times

After first being presented 22 years ago, James Carroll Pickett's "Dream Man" is returning to the Skylight, the venue where it premiered. That inaugural production starred Michael Kearns as Christopher, the caustic but yearning gay phone-sex operator who spends an often hilarious, ultimately harrowing evening catering to his lonely clients' fantasies while he mulls over the wreckage of his own shattered expectations.

Now, in this Camelot Artists production, Kearns directs the prodigiously talented Jimmy Shaw in the role he performed worldwide for almost a decade.

Kearns brings the bounty of experience to his streamlined, smartly paced staging. As for Shaw, he delivers a performance of shattering craft. While David Bartlett's excellent sound design thrums in the background, Shaw clambers on the scaffolds of J. Kent Inasy's superlatively simple set like an agitated zoo animal looking for an out.

Shaw's Christopher, a small-town Kentucky boy who moved to Los Angeles with his youthful lover several hard and harrowing years ago, is oddly reminiscent of Blanche DuBois, boiled hard and cracked open for public consumption. However, Christopher expects no kindness from strangers. Indeed, he exploits them for his very survival, but his is an empty and soulless round that will prove unendurable.

Initially, one might have some trepidations that this mid-1980s play would have become as obsolete as the phone sex trade, a "calling" -- no pun intended -- that has long since gone online. Those fears are groundless. If anything, the subject matter is as resonant and timely as ever, and the explicit sexual references are couched in terms of such vaulting poeticism that they are more lyrical than salacious.

The play remains set in 1985, a time when the AIDS epidemic had sent many of the young gay men in Christopher's ravaged generation underground, looking for love in soulless and antiseptic encounters with "dream men" like himself. Christopher's struggles and galvanizing final epiphany constitute a cathartic scenario, as emotionally immediate as it is retrospectively terrifying.

Sadly, Pickett, the play's author, died of AIDS in 1994. Undiminished in power, "Dream Man" is an enduring testament to a talent cut short.


'Dream Man'

Where: Skylight Theatre, 1816 N. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles

When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays

Info: Ends June 1; price, $20; running time, 1 hour; contact, (310) 358-9936

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