Dreampuffs of Lorna

Stark Raving at the CoHo Theatre, 2257 NW Raleigh, 232-7072, Thurs-Sat 8 pm, Sun 7 pm, through Oct. 8, $10-20

Dreampuffs of Lorna, written by Jennifer Haley, is as frustrating and conceptually squishy as the name suggests. Set in a near future of food scarcities and war, Dreampuffs opens promisingly, but soon veers into artistic and intellectual irrelevance.

Lorna is a single woman living alone with her cat, Mitzi. Her craving for authentic, unfiltered experience has led to a decision to join the army. Ignoring the objections of her mother, Ellie, and neighbor, Mr. Loveland, Lorna is determined to go fight in the war of "liberation." The first half of the play focuses on Lorna's impending departure, and exposes a sly sexual element in the relationship between Lorna and Mitzi, suggesting both the depth of Lorna's unhappiness and the extent to which people often anthropomorphize their pets. Act II, though, is a downward spiral into banality.

In Lorna's absence, Ellie and Mr. Loveland have portentous dreams and argue over the morality of eating the cat, which is played by my own personal ray of sunshine in the Portland theater scene, Joe Bolenbaugh. And he's shirtless. And wearing a collar. Bolenbaugh's performance brought to mind a story my high school theater teacher used to tell: Once, while attending a performance at Reed College's outdoor amphitheater, a black dog wandered onstage and immediately captured the full attention of the audience, to the dismay of the performers. Bolenbaugh's presence has a similar effect. Even when he's sprawled on the floor feigning sleep, his catlike exactitude is far more interesting than the conversation around him. He doesn't so much steal the show as render the rest of it completely superfluous. Maybe I'm a perv, but I found the subtle chemistry between cat and owner in Act I to be far more interesting than the insipid dream metaphors and tired political rhetoric that dominated Act II. With some serious editing, Dreampuffs could've been a clever sex farce—but if there's one thing the world doesn't need, it's yet another heavy-handed indictment of US culture. The triteness of the script is an insult to both the audience and the talents of the Stark Raving ensemble. And poor little Mitzi. ALISON HALLETT