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New York | 1h 40m | Already closed

Fire in Dreamland

From 29 critic and 119 member reviews
Members say: Great acting, Disappointing, Slow, Confusing, Absorbing

About the show

Set in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, the Public Theater's new drama breaks the boundaries of time and narrative to explore the astonishing things we create in the face of devastation. More…

A disillusioned do-gooder named Kate meets Jaap, a charismatic European making a film about the 1911 fire that burned Coney Island’s Dreamland amusement park to ashes. Desperate for something to live for, Kate buys a ticket on the thrill ride of Jaap’s passion. The only trick is to keep the roller coaster from running off the rails before it destroys them all.

Epoch Times

“Groff has written a fascinating piece that shows both the passion and danger dreams can bring...Wolf’s direction is excellent throughout. Her efforts help to make sure that every moment—be it dramatic or humorous—is played for maximum effect. At the same time, she makes sure that no scene in the play overstays its welcome. Powerfully presented and completely absorbing...Poignantly recalls a tragic event in history worth knowing about.” Full Review

Front Row Center

“Jones owns ‘Fire In Dreamland’...She makes you believe she is Kate...A complicated tale, spinning out competing narratives, occasionally forcing the audience to pause and take stock...Wolf makes the most of a talented cast. She pushes them to execute even the silences with power. She uses a small audio device to pace the action — a clapperboard — a filmmaker’s artifact to mark scenes in a powerful stage play about filmmaking...Remarkable script, and deft direction.” Full Review

Front Mezz Junkies

"It’s a powerfully dynamic and funny new play directed with a detailed perfection by the specific Marissa Wolf...Exciting, clangy, and fast, this tale, that starts out with loss and disillusionment, finds its pathway through devastation into salvation, much like that heart-pounding feeling when we know we have survived the wild ride of a roller coaster ride, and we return to the safety of the platform edge." Full Review


“New York City has a rich and fascinating history. Plays that examine this history frequently can be compelling, and ‘Fire in Dreamland’ perfectly fits the bill...Brilliant dialogue...written with passion...The characters movingly examine the tragic plight of the animals in the Dreamland fire...All three cast members are impeccable in their roles...The play’s center is Kate, perfectly performed by Jones." Full Review


"This fascinating and funny new play...Jones makes an appealing and instantly relatable everywoman...Director Marissa Wolf has tightly staged this play with jump cuts, denoting a shift in scenes using only a slight pulse in the lights...Groff makes a persuasive argument: That dishonesty exists because we want it to — because we prefer beautiful dreams to depressing reality." Full Review

Theatre Reviews Limited

"Rinne Groff has created an engaging extended metaphor based on the 1911 fire that destroyed the iconic Dreamland on Coney Island...Director Marissa Wolf and the three-member cast grapple successfully with Rinne Groff’s demanding script which results in a sometimes mind-spinning tumble into the playwright’s wonderland of fractured realism laced with magical realism and 'theatre noir'...Rebecca Naomi Jones’s Kate is multilayered and believable." Full Review

Plays to See

“Groff’s script is exceedingly clever, and her characters are vivid, animated easily by the charm and talent of Jones and Gjokaj...The show is a bit lackluster, perhaps because the bones of the story feel played out. Beyond the fascinating crux that is the Dreamland fire, the ‘girl meets boy’ and ‘whirlwind romance’ tropes fail to captivate...But that isn’t to say that the show isn’t wholly enjoyable...Fun, clever dialogue and the charisma of the actors certainly make this worth seeing.” Full Review

New York Magazine / Vulture

"If 'Fire in Dreamland' falters a bit in its tale—which remains compelling overall thanks to Groff’s humor and sensitivity and the production’s game trio of actors—it does so by never quite grabbing us fully by the throat. It has us firmly and kindly by the hand, and it leads us on a largely lovely journey, but there’s pain and shock and betrayal along that path, and in Wolf’s rendering we’re kept largely insulated from these gut feelings." Full Review

New York Stage Review

"It’s an interesting and beautifully staged play, directed by Marissa Wolf, with a fantastic central performance from Rebecca Naomi Jones, that’s less than entirely fulfilling only because Groff tries to squeeze quite so much into its 90 minutes...Here, there’s real-world tragedy, too. But the experience ends up being, perhaps, a bit like that fire: thrilling and exciting, and just too much to take in." Full Review

Time Out New York

"Faltering but beautifully performed dramedy... Director Marissa Wolf does strong work, and Groff’s script includes a number of elegant touches, like time hops and flashbacks...The play’s weakness comes from its lack of a serious central conflict...Its main tragic moments, told in monologue, concern animals that have been dead for more than a hundred years. For a drama that's about focusing on reality and present suffering, there's more sentimental smoke than emotional fire." Full Review

Talkin' Broadway

"Choppy but nonetheless intriguing and well-acted play...One of the strengths the playwright brings to the table lies in her ability to take a familiar trope and provide it with unexpected twists and turns. None of the three characters is merely a stereotype...Under Marissa Wolf's direction, all three actors leap fearlessly into their performances...There definitely are times when the play would be well served with the trimming away of superfluous elements." Full Review


"Played out on a wooden boardwalk evoking Coney Island--the simple set and costumes have been designed by Susan Hilferty--'Fire in Dreamland' begs for any connections to be drawn between the Dreamland fire and what's happening between Kate and Jaap and Lance a century later. If there are any connections, they are never made clear...Director Marissa Wolf has not found a way to bridge the enormous gap, or vacancy really, between the two different periods." Full Review

New York Theater

"There is such innate drama, such elemental power, in fire and flood...But, for all the potentially great metaphors at play, and a competent production that features a meticulous minimalist design and some fine acting, there are too few moments in 'Fire in Dreamland' as engaging as Kate’s monologue about the fire, and too much that gets in the way of a satisfying drama...There is too little about the 1911 fire, and there is way too much about the movie they want to make about it." Full Review

Village Voice

“In ‘Fire in Dreamland’, two people are obsessed but the conjunction of history and art only changes one: Kate. And yet, she never quite acquires a fully rounded personality, instead remaining a sketch of a character in search of purpose — or, motivation. As for that potentially intriguing Sandy connection, it is so underwritten as to feel arbitrary...For a story about the extremes of being consumed, ‘Fire in Dreamland’ is oddly lukewarm." Full Review

Daily Beast

"Intriguing if uneven play...The play breathes easiest in its witty and sometimes silly moments of linguistic misunderstanding between the three characters, and in its visually arresting symbolic immersions in those raging flames and wild animals in peril during the 1911 fire...Quite what that night of flames and terrible animal suffering can teach the squabbling and challenging characters of 'Fire in Dreamland' remains a little opaque." Full Review

Stage Left

"The convergence of history and art, and the way stories can capture us, are explored impressionistically in this funny, heartfelt, but ultimately emotionally-thin and mysteriously-drawn play...Often funny, and occasionally transporting, this quirky tale remains as diffuse as Jaap’s film, lacking grounding and fully-articulated characters to give content to its drama." Full Review

Lighting & Sound America

“A play that is marked by persistent vagueness of purpose...Jones's presence is effortlessly compelling, her delivery authoritative...Kate, as written, isn't sufficiently engaging, and her willful blindness to her circumstances becomes increasingly grating...Wolf, can't bring any clarification to this skittish tale, her overall handling feels professional...An unpersuasive drama about art and love. A great drama about this terrible event has yet to be written.” Full Review

The New York Times

"Rinne Groff’s shaky parable of art and love and licorice...Affectionate, but never especially persuasive...The play borrows from the current template of the rom-com, in which love allows a childish man to grow up and an uptight woman to loosen up. But there’s something uglier and yet not ugly enough operating here...The play takes a more compelling turn just at the end, exploring what we do after a calamity and how we might, with care and pain, rebuild our boardwalks and our hearts." Full Review


"Wolf has done her best to help it achieve the timeliness and meaningful depth to which it aspires. Thus, the problem is in the fault line that permeates Groff's plot...The way the script jumps around makes the way this all plays out become increasingly muddled and weighed down by lengthy metaphors and monologues. What's more, it's difficult for the audience to become as fired up about the images in Kate's discovered material about the fire, since it's more tell than show." Full Review

New York Stage Review

"Marissa Wolf directs Groff’s opus creditably, and Jones, Gjokaj and Beltran perform it well. Though perhaps ultimately unable to make Kate completely sympathetic, Jones does her attractive utmost...As Groff spun her unsatisfying tale, I knew what every word meant, but more and more I stopped caring." Full Review


"Like many plays, 'Fire in Dreamland' might benefit from a more expansive production than the one provided here, although director Marisa Wolf does guide her three-person cast to authentic performances, and makes good use of Hilferty's clever, minimalist set...And Groff deserves bonus points for providing audiences with a history lesson about a particularly horrible moment in our city's past that I suspect most of us were unaware ever took place." Full Review

Financial Times (UK)

"For starters, the conceit of writing a play about someone making a film is under-developed here. The story of the fire itself, which led to the deaths of dozens of circus animals, sounds fascinating. But, as recounted through a series of monologues, it feels tacked on to the action...Compared to the epic chaos of the Dreamland fire, 'Fire in Dreamland' fizzles out in run-of-the-mill romantic intrigue." Full Review

Exeunt Magazine

“Never seems to find firm footing...Characters feel shallowly unpleasant rather than compellingly flawed. And its story never feels fleshed-out...There is something intriguing, if underdeveloped, in the ideas underpinning ‘Fire in Dreamland’...I don’t think the play successfully builds these ideas into a compelling whole, even though many of the production and all of the performances, are wonderful." Full Review

Times Square Chronicles

“At the end, I was excited about the caliber of performance that I just witnessed, but the plot just doesn’t stick...This show was an absolute whirlwind from beginning to end—some parts were moving and deeply captivating (i.e. all of Jones’s monologues) while some were just confusing. The calming ending was a nice touch, but this was too much to be packed into ninety minutes. Life is confusing, yes, but our stories shouldn’t be quite as confusing as life itself." Full Review

Theater Pizzazz

"The essentially straightforward through-line is clouded by film script-like jump cuts via sudden lighting changes...It's an unnecessarily foggy device serving only to draw attention to itself… Each of the three actors offers a determined performance but…their characters never come to life…Groff seems to be trying to connect Kate, Joop, and Lance's struggles…to the hopes for recovery of Sandy's victims. Unfortunately, her playwriting smoke and mirrors quickly tamp down those fires." Full Review

Absorbing, Enchanting, Entertaining

See it if You like being drawn into a gripping show.

Don't see it if You have no imagination.

Absorbing, Great acting, Quirky, Entertaining

See it if If you like relationship oriented stories and how gullible we can be when fragile

Don't see it if If you don't like stories that have quick transitions and jump around a bit

Funny, Absorbing, Great acting, Serious

See it if Fire, destruction of Coney Island, watery devastation of Hurricane Sandy. How do we react, recover from total wipe out? How do we recover

Don't see it if You want a fluffy show, clear story, straight timeline.

Also Wonderful performances. Vivid, harrowing descriptions. Historic detail... Read more Read less

Absorbing, Ambitious, Edgy, Great acting, Great writing

See it if You are a fan of Rinne Groff or Rebecca Naomi Jones, like challenging new works, enjoy theatre as a visceral and emotional experience.

Don't see it if You want a linear plot line with traditional values, looking for a light-hearted entertainment, prefer not to be challenged.

Absorbing, Great acting, Thought-provoking, Entertaining

See it if You enjoy great acting particularly when the narration brings unseen scenes to life

Don't see it if You’re turned off by viewing manipulative relationships played out

Absorbing, Great acting, Intelligent, Relevant, Resonant

See it if You remember Sandy. You like Brooklyn and the beach. You don't get why these guys are so "compelling."

Don't see it if It does run a little long, but I liked it overall.

Excellent acting, Riveting / absorbing / very entertaining, Great lighting / cool set, Sentimental / romantic, Relevant / refreshing

See it if you're cool w/90min of dreaming vs reality; letting go of inhibition vs honoring responsibility. Show grows on you w/palpable performances.

Don't see it if a handsome con-artist slithering his way around & thru everyone's heart & wallet will easily piss you off. Great acting; NOT to be missed.

Also As soon as you settle in, you're immersed & gone.... Read more Read less

Great acting, Intense, Entertaining

See it if you love RNJ - shes a dream on stage and carried this show. Also shows a lot of classic NY scenes that were delightful.

Don't see it if you're looking for a big story. This is a small story that follows a very simple structure.

Absorbing, Dizzying, Enchanting, Great acting, Confusing

See it if you like Coney Island; you’re up for a small, abstract play touching on multiple themes—millennial inertia/indecision most effectively imo

Don't see it if you need a very literal or linear piece; you need lots of action; you need every loose end tied up or every theme explored very thoroughly

Also yes, the text is a bit unfocused, but there’s plenty to like, and the ... Read more Read less

Absorbing, Great acting, Thought-provoking

See it if you are looking for a romantic drama with a touch of history.

Don't see it if you are looking for a history of the Coney Island fire.

Absorbing, Great acting, Thought-provoking

See it if To consider our currently over-privileged but dissatisfied culture

Don't see it if You want a slamdunk, essy-to-digest moral quandary.

Absorbing, Clever, Great acting, Relevant, Entertaining

See it if you're interested in Coney Island history & the creative process in making movies, honest look at how someone can be scammed and rise again

Don't see it if Coney Island, making movies and misbegotten love affairs don't interest you, don't like stories that hint at denouement out of sequence

Absorbing, Great acting, Underrated

See it if you appreciate great acting and like stories about vulnerability, deception, or creativity. Pace is good and only 90 minutes.

Don't see it if you don't like shows that require your imagination. I could see why some found it confusing since characters describe movie you don't see.

Intelligent, Refreshing, Terrific ensemble, Sharp direction and staging, Well written effortless dialogue

See it if You're up for a compelling meditation on stories & storytelling; witnessing & being part of the stagecraft that makes it possible.

Don't see it if Unless you're looking for a perfect play, no reason not to. It's always a pleasure to see fine actors working well in layered performances.

Also Stories—hearing them, telling them, retelling them—are pretty intrinsi... Read more Read less

Absorbing, Great acting, Intelligent, Thought-provoking, Slow

See it if you like great chemistry among the actors, Coney Island history, interesting plot, imaginative sets and genuine humor in a drama.

Don't see it if you are looking for a big brassy fun night out show or you can't sit still for that long.

Ambitious, Clever, Great acting, Quirky

See it if the show has interesting ideas, interesting staging, excellent acting. It attempts, with partial success, to blend history and today.

Don't see it if The play is ambitious but doesn't really cohere. It tries but can't make the connection between past and present.

Confusing, Disappointing, Great singing, Leading no where

See it if You know the actors and want to enjoy there work.

Don't see it if You expect storylines to lead to a definitive end.

Great acting, Intense, Confusing, Slow, Entertaining

See it if you enjoy any of the actors, simple sets, like NYC/Coney Island history, and interwoven histories

Don't see it if you don't like timelines that jump back and forth without warning and non-traditional/non-linear storytelling

Also - I saw this on Aug 4. It was 100 minutes with no intermission... Read more Read less

Ambitious, Indulgent, Banal, Disappointing, Cliched

See it if If you are interested in NY history. Interesting premise.

Don't see it if Not fully developed. Minimalist staging, small cast. Just OK.

Absorbing, Great acting, Great writing, Great staging, Whatsthepoint

See it if you love witnessing superb acting and brilliant naturalistic dialog, amidst ingenious & dynamic stagecraft/directing in very intimate venue.

Don't see it if you need for the plot, at very essence, to be meaningful. This play is a lot of gorgeous sound&fury signifying... well... not much at all

Great acting, Disappointing, Promising, but doesn’t fulfill that promise.

See it if The acting was great. The ideas were interesting.

Don't see it if It really needs to be rewritten and reshaped. Somehow it just doesn’t work.

Absorbing, Great acting, Great staging

See it if you want a female centered New York story performed by great actors

Don't see it if you want a big flashy show

Quirky, Entertaining

See it if You can follow odd staging

Don't see it if Can’t follow odd staging and a slice of New York life

Quirky, Romantic, Disappointing, Cliched

See it if you're interested in the work of contemporary writers, appreciate good acting, are drawn to characters searching for meaning in their lives

Don't see it if you are put off by predictability, stereotypical situations and characters

Also The play has some strong moments, good use of humor and an excellent p... Read more Read less

Ambitious, Clever, Great acting, Slow

See it if You enjoy following a story within a story within a story. There really are 2 or 3 different plays happening here. All interesting.

Don't see it if You expect much insight or historical perspective on the 1911 Dreamland Fire. It’s there, but very thin.

Also Rebecca Naomi Jones carries the ball here and is stunning to watch and... Read more Read less

Cast & Creatives (9)