What Dreams Are Made Of
There’s something not right when P.K. and Z take their afternoon tea. The dialogue is snappy. They’ve gotten out the fine China, with delicate pink sprawl on white ground. The children are playing in the yard. P.K. is cheerful and chatty. But then his face goes slack, and tightens back up.
There aren’t really children after all, he says. And Z must leave immediately, taking nothing with her. And the next dream sequence might start soon.
This is the world—or one of the many worlds—of Enter Your Sleep, on at the Yale Cabaret through Saturday night. Written by Christina Quintana and directed by Rachel Shuey, the play is a masterful and unexpected meditation on friendship, and how we build and break our memories before we go.
Enter You Sleep begins with a simple if surreal premise: longtime best friends P.K. Whylde (JJ McGlone) and Glory “Z” Zico (Ciara McMillian) want to meet each other in their dreams. After growing up together in Tulsa, Zico has moved across the country to New York City. They miss each other like only friends can: with a whole-body love that is baffling and inexplicable to everyone around.
Meeting in one’s dreams, it turns out, is the sort of thing that takes a little magic and a whole lot of belief: a shared memory, a common smell, a mental rendezvous point. There’s a rubber chicken somewhere in there. They can do it precisely because they are best friends, and nothing is out of their reach.
Or is it? As the play unfolds in a series of childhood flashbacks and dream sequences, P.K. and Zico strip their friendship to the bones, trying to figure out where the going got tough, and one of them got going. They are themselves but also their dream selves, pivoting sharply to and from reality as they shape-shift, time-hop, and live out might-have-beens.
The sequences are right on the money—dreams and not dreams, flecked with humor and enchantment but also grief and pain that don’t hold back, and sometimes leak through everything else. In one moment. P.K. is ever the cautious child, laying out a path of pebbles—except in our dream, they are brightly-colored, semi-inflated balloons—so he can find his way home from the forest.
In another, our protagonists are preschool-aged again, just meeting each other on the playground for the first time. P.K. is P.K. but also Ferdinand the conflict-averse bull, hunched away in a corner to avoid the playground’s blacktop and the kids on it. It’s a metaphor that sticks alarmingly well—a bull in life’s China shop, overwhelmed by the delicate and sharp things that can fall on his wide shoulders and soft head.
A sound trills above and the scene shifts. It’s story time in P.K.’s classroom, and the teacher is telling the story of Jack and Jill. Except it’s not Jack and Jill, it’s P.K. and Z, and one of them doesn’t make it down the hill. Or maybe it’s the overlook, a meeting place that has become their own. Or maybe it’s somewhere else entirely.
“I want to know what happens to the boy!” P.K. insists. He is irate and tearful, on his knees, pleading with the teacher until he pushes her over. “What happens to the boy?”
The teacher, who is not Zico and not not Zico, lays in a heap on the floor. “I can’t tell you because I don’t know,” she says.
What emerges, slowly and not without humor, is a story within a story within many stories. There’s a thick webbing Z must unwind, jumping through worlds as she does. There’s also a portrait of depression and anxiety that is stunning and subtle, devouring P.K. before you know it’s even there. In a vignette that is particularly hard to watch, P.K. becomes a sort of glassy-eyed computer, stuttering with bad automated speak and tens on tens of programed jokes.
If you have ever had a friend on Prozac, this is kind of what it looks like. Your friend becomes a wall, into which you are running at full speed. A wall that will always be too tall to climb, that Zico will still climb every day of her life, in hopes that the outcome will be different. We cannot look away from this mess, because it is blessed and truthful. This is what happens when the clock rewinds, yes, but also when it unwinds and melts into a puddle on the floor.
McGlone and McMillian, both cab debuts, rise to the challenge. Their acting is acrobatic and nimble, with sudden pivots that are keep the audience on its toes. As P.K. McGlone is sweet and sensitive, so afraid of the world that you know it is going to trample him. His borders are porous: he feels everything, and send his own sadness back out of his skin as it hits him in waves. But the actor is not a one-trick (or one-dream) pony: he can play the hardened forest witch, the fast-talking Southern mom, the curious student, because all of these things exist within him. He has been to planet P.K. and back, and is ready to report the horrible, wonderful things he has seen there.
In every way, McMillian is in sync with him, ebullient and funny until she is suddenly not. When she finally finds that spot between dream and reality we’re been looking for, the performance is gut-wrenchingly good, cutting to the deepest parts of loss. It is waking up and forgetting that you have lost someone. And then, it is the stinging pain of remembering not just that they are gone, but that you must get up and exist in a world without them.
“What’s really fun about this play is it does get so crazy, and it allows you to enter into these different headspaces with one other person,” McMillian said in a talkback after the show. “And it creates a bond during the show that is hard to explain to anybody else. There are some times when I look at him [McGlone] during the show, and he’ll know what’s about to happen, and we’ve created a language between each other.”
That’s the nut of it. With nods to Elena Ferrante’s My Beautiful Friend, Christopher Nolan’s Memento, and Patti Smith’s Just Kids, Enter Your Sleep is magical and devastating because it’s a dive into a single friendship. Not a romantic relationship. Not a divorce. Not a rebound lover, or affair, or series of friendships, or band of frenemies, or friendship that blooms into something else.
Just a friendship between two kids, one gay and one not, who can finish each other’s sentences. Who cannot bear the thought of not being with each other, but cannot be exclusively be with each other either. Who will feel each other’s absence acutely, as if they have been stripped of an appendage. Who have found a love that is not like any other love in this universe.
Or, for that matter, the next one.
Enter Your Sleep runs at the Yale Cabaret through Saturday night, with Friday and Saturday performances at 8 and 11 p.m. More information and tickets at the Cab's website.