Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Doris to Darlene, a cautionary valentine

Photo/Joan Marcus

Jordan Harrison's new play, Doris to Darlene, a cautionary valentine has well-earned the latter half of its name: the writing is exceedingly cautious, often delivered in a omniscient third-person that allows the characters to be in a perpetual state of introspection. Harrison handles the language very well, squeezing character into the rare lines of actual dialogue -- like the showmanship of producer Vic Watts ("I want tiny little children to hemorrhage their hearts out"), the weird music teacher, Mr. Campani ("If it ain't Baroque, don't fix it"), or the frustrated Richard Wagner, trying to overcome writer's block ("What would a dragon sing . . . if it could sing?") -- but this theatrical format is incapable of whipping our emotions into anything resembling the vomit-inducing power of The Ring Cycle. At times, Harrison speaks elegantly to the power of music, with Tom Nelis' Mr. Campani exciting us like the solipsistic conductor in Terrance McNally's Prelude and Liebestod. At others, as with Laura Heisler's overplayed sorrow as King Ludwig, the music is washed out by distant analysis. I admire what Harrison is reaching for in the three eras of storytelling (1865 Bavaria, 1960 doo-wop America, and present day), and even more so the way that director Les Waters spins the scenes in, like some DJ scratching on a rotating stage, remixing the actors into a variety of roles, and cutting them together with some nice orchestral cues. But I think that's showmanship more than a show: for instance, Doris (De'adre Aziza) is the least developed of the characters (Wagner and Ludwig already exist in our minds), and no sooner does she have a husband and career than she has lost both in a scene we can only imagine. The real story goes to The Young Man (Tobias Segal), who tries to come into his sexuality by pursuing his teacher, Mr. Campani; for him, at least, the music is seen as a promising, tantalizing hope of something better. Black notes on a white page; what does it bring anybody? asks Harrison, in a far too poetic, and all too unresolved ending. I couldn't say; but at least I was keyed up through the show by the cleverness of it all.

[Also blogged by: Patrick]

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