Theater: Joyce Piven’s ‘What Dreams May Come’ a Mitzvah Lost in Adaptation

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CHICAGO – Before you’re served this meal, you’re treated to a backstory of four integral ingredients that are three parts encouragement and one part concern.

What Dreams May ComeThe Piven Theatre, which is co-founded by Joyce Piven (the mother of Chicago film star Jeremy Piven), is kicking off its upcoming theater season by revisiting an acclaimed format that sold out shows throughout its run two years ago.

For more delectable buildup, a personal note from director Joyce Piven on this year’s “What Dreams May Come: American Visions Through Jewish Eyes” perfectly puts you in the storytelling mood.

The tale of her credulous and selfless grandfather, Jake, is one you’re inspired by and proud to tell about an elder you love and respect. Jake Piven ran a small grocery store off Roosevelt Road where he had a “credit record” of all things purchased to be paid without interest when the person could afford it.

For even more fodder to this looming feast, you learn its three stories are penned by one Pulitzer Prize-winning Jewish author (Bernard Malamud) and another Nobel Prize-winning Jewish writer (Isaac Bashevis Singer).

Once you’re primed with encouragement of 2005’s success coupled with the vivid details of her grandfather and what must decisively be superlative writing, though, you dive into the performance with open-minded apprehension after reading the relatively lacking cast credits.

What Dreams May Come
The three back-to-back stories all impart decidedly different lessons without any connection to one other. The first – wrapped in a woman’s dream of her parents – feels lost in its own melodrama.

You warm up to the second – on the thought-provoking concept of buying a miracle on faith for your terminally ill father – and especially the third, which centers around life and if you’d know you’re dead all wrapped in the paramount question of who a person should spend a life loving.

Once you’ve eaten the trio, you’re hesitant to feel entirely awed ultimately because of one overarching theme: you get the feeling brilliance is here but it’s partially lost in its adaptation and direction.

On opening night, Joyce emerged from the crowd with lukewarm and deservedly earned feedback. While changes were necessary and gaps needed filling, her good-deeded mitzvah is the gift of thought and discussion.

“What Dreams May Come: American Visions Through Jewish Eyes” runs through Dec. 16 at the Piven Theatre in Evanston. 7:30 p.m. on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays; 2:30 p.m. on Sundays. Tickets cost $23-$25.

By Adam Fendelman

© 2007 Adam Fendelman,

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