Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Doris To Darlene

photo: Joan Marcus

First, there's the mid-1960's story that recalls Phil and Ronnie Spector, in which an obsessive pop record producer cribs a Wagner melody to score a "wall of sound" hit for his discovery Darlene; second, there's the story of Wagner writing that melody, while financed and coddled by his most obsessive fan King Ludwig; third, there is the contemporary story of a gay teenager who obsesses over Darlene's song while nursing an attraction to his high school music teacher, a Wagner buff. This ambitious but only occasionally successful new drama, which rotates and mashes-up those three stories spanning over a century, may want to speak to the powerful mysteries of music that language can not summon, but it is anything but mysterious: it spells everything out and doesn't risk anything as chancey as subtext. The playwright (Jordan Harrison) has the characters authorally speaking their thoughts in the third person nearly as often as they simply speak dialogue to each other: that's distancing rather than involving. It takes a long time to get used to the continual juxtapositions of the stories: I suspect that the playwright's aim is to make a kind of verbal music out of the rotation, but the dialogue is not sufficiently heightened to achieve that. For most of the first act we may as well be watching stick figures go round in a revolving door. The second act is better - a couple of the performers (most notably Tom Nelis, as the music teacher) are able to flesh out their characters and register as human beings - and the big moment that the play has been leading to undoubtedly works. But it would work a lot better if the playwright had more trust in the audience.

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