REVIEW: Sleepwalk (The James Downing Theatre)


Sleepwalking through life – a play for teens, by teens



The James Downing Theatre presents
Written by William Mastrosimone
Directed by
Thomas Akouris
at John Waldron Arts Center, 6740 N. Oliphant (
through Nov. 21  | 
tickets: $15-$22  |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

There is something funny, frank, and charming about The James Downing Theatre’s amateur production, Sleepwalk, a one-act play by Emmy award-winning William Mastrosimone, cast with mostly non-professional teenage actors. That’s how the playwright intended it—a drama about teen suicide performed by teens for teens. The production is part of the cultural mission of James Downing Theatre, sponsored by the Edison Park United Methodist Church, to raise awareness within the community about this dark but all-too-timely subject.

Young Dillion (Stephen Fenstermacher) faces the depressing prospect of his parents’ divorce, on top of all the other hormonal and social trials of adolescence. When his idol, Rock Star (Erik Enberg) takes his own life, Dillion spirals deeper into depression, contemplating suicide and keeping an already written suicide PB011469note with him in his pocket. The play begins with Dillion in a dream state, encountering figures that take him on a stream-of-consciousness emotional journey to the center of his pain and despair. Opposing him is Amygdala (Michael Mejia), a sly, tough, hip-hop Superfly of an Id, who overloads Dillion with negative emotions. Zen Master (Charles Wimmer) attempts to give Dillion some Buddhist balance and guidance to help him weather the psychological storms. But Dillion also has to recognize his overdependence on the figure of the Rock Star to give his life meaning and value.

Dillion’s dream is about reclaiming himself. As the protagonist, Fenstermacher has a personable Everyman quality about him. He can nail Dillion’s anhedonia with almost clinical accuracy. To the extent that Director Thomas Akouris draws natural and immediate performances from his non-professional cast, the show succeeds—and no doubt will succeed in reaching its intended audience with its most necessary message. All the same, expect rough, homespun, uneven acting from the lead and most of the cast. Mejia stands out by delivering his hip-hop verse with moxy and May Flowers (Anisa Pashaj for our showing), Dillion’s hippy girlfriend, is fresh and easy-going in her humorous, sassy and caring role.

It would be nice to see this play produced with more experienced actors and in a theater space that doesn’t flatten sight lines. The only thing that isn’t amateurish about Sleepwalk is Mastrosimone’s script. Still, I doubt that these issues are of any concern to the production or the playwright. Theater that incites discussion and gets communities to pay attention to the emotional trouble teens face in their schools and homes is the real goal here, not critical accolades. What Sleepwalk needs is not a critic but a young audience that needs to be aware of the troubled mind—and that there is help and hope at hand. 

Rating: ★★
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Artistic and Production Team

Stephen E. Fenstermacher as Dillon and Erik Enberg as Rock Star head the cast, which also includes Anisa Pashaj, Jessica Perelman, Yoni Hankin, Michael Mejia, Charles Wimmer and Eric Bruce.

Lighting and sound design is by Steve Kedzierski. Set design is by Joshua Dlouhy. The stage manager is Mary Schenk.


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