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A Sleeping Country

a Atlanta Premiere
by Melanie Marnich

COMPANY : Essential Theatre [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Actor's Express [WEBSITE]
ID# 4087

SHOWING : June 29, 2011 - July 30, 2011



Winner of the 2008 Mickey Kaplan Play Prize, it’s a magical romantic comedy about a woman who travels to Italy looking for help with her terrible insomnia. In trying to find a way to fall asleep, she learns how to become truly awake. By one of the award-winning writers of the TV series Big Love.

Director Peter Hardy
Lighting Designer Harley Gould
Scenic Designer Nadia Morgan
Julia Kelly Criss
Midge/Carlotta/Gondolier Megan Hayes
Greg/Franco/Carlo Matthew Myers
Isabella Holly Stevenson
Click to Submit Cast & Crew Info for this production


A Sleeping Script
by Dedalus
Tuesday, August 2, 2011
For its inaugural production of its 2011 New Play Festival, Essential Theatre has chosen a peculiar little “neurotic comedy” by Melanie Marnich, “A Sleeping Country.” Although I found it long on caricature and implausible contrivance, but short on actual comedy, it was nevertheless a pleasant diversion, made more so by a warm and frazzled performance by Kelly Criss in the central role.

Julia Fracassi, a resident of a New York bearing a superficial resemblance to Woody Allen’s, suffers from chronic insomnia. Trading barbs with her therapist and long-time friend, Dr. Midge, she begins to suspect she may suffer from a rare and possibly deadly condition known as Fatal Familial Insomnia. Taking a break from her long-term relationship with almost-fiancé Greg, she makes a pilgrimage to Venice to visit a possible distant relation to check up on her genetic history. While there, she meets some seemingly eccentric folks whose worldly wisdom send her back home with some insight into her own family and condition.

Let’s look at these plot points to see why I had such a difficult time with my “willing suspension of disbelief” on this piece. In fact, why don’t we start with that first scene between Julia and her therapist? Yes, it is the funniest scene in the play and Megan Hayes pulls out the stops as Dr. Midge. But, is it the best ethical practice for a therapist to take on a childhood friend as a client? Does it make sense for the therapist to so belittle the central problem of her client (“I hope you’re not going to talk about your insomnia again? Boring!” – or words to that effect)? Not really! The scene seemed to me to be contrived simply to provide as much exposition with as many laughs (well, smiles) as possible.

Things go rapidly downhill once Julia gets to Vienna. Every cliché in the book is trotted out – the singing gondolier, the smarmy ladies’ man, the worldly-wise older woman – and there is not a drop of honesty in any of the scenes. Not to take away from Holly Stevenson’s performance as Isabella Orsini, but everything out of her mouth seemed to be a Hallmark-card platitude. To say there was nothing surprising or funny or compelling in any of these scenes would be an overstatement, perhaps – they did provide an occasional smile and they were never boring – but they certainly had none of the “life-altering wisdom” that Julia (and the plot) needed them to have.

Finally, when Julia finds the root cause of her insomnia ([Parenthetical Remark Deleted by the Spoiler Police]), it is the most obvious, least interesting explanation imaginable. To truly get into Woody Allen territory (which seems to be Ms. Marnich’s goal), a little more back-story would have been needed. Another “Why” needed to be answered – Just WHY did this lead to chronic insomnia? As written, it seems as if the playwright did only a casual Internet search for “insomnia causes” rather than come up with something that would have been truly revealing of character or would have shone a light on a compelling new aspect of what makes us human.

Even the very topic of Fatal Familial Insomnia is given short shrift. It’s brought up than given only the most casual dismissal. To be honest, I would have preferred it if Julia did have the condition – that would have taken the play in a totally original direction.

What we do have, though, is a marvelously jittery performance by Kelly Criss as Julia. Almost an innocent abroad, she goes through the play with a lost “Why is this happening to me, and why are these people treating me like this?” expression in her eyes, that actually “sells” the predictable ending so much more than the script does. She finds a lot of humor in the most seemingly un-funny situations, and has a goofy, wry reaction to her faux-therapist that even sells that contrivance. I’ve praised her in the past, but here, she shows the truly enviable ability to make a sleepy script come awake.

To be fair, my reaction may be a minority reaction. The audience I was with found a lot to laugh at, much more than I did. The “Buzz” in the lobby afterwards was uniformly positive, and I found myself leaving the theatre almost embarrassed to be such a grump and sorry I couldn’t enjoy the play as much as everyone else.

Still, my reaction is my reaction, and it would be silly of me to lose any sleep over it.

-- Brad Rudy (



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