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This article by Jack Florek was prepared for the September 4, 2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Drama Review: `Dreamers’
Who said that community theater can’t do new or risky
While most community theaters (and Broadway, too) are busy stocking
their stages with well-worn, cozy classics, Actors’ NET of Bucks County
— often willing to challenge the artistic norm — is currently
staging "Dreamers," Joe Doyle’s somewhat bawdy, thoughtful,
and entertaining new musical. It will be onstage at the company’s
home in the Heritage Center in Morrisville, Pennsylvania, through
Set in the 1970s, "Dreamers" challenges the notion that a
musical’s storyline is just something to hang songs on. Tom O’Hara
(Chuck Donnelly) comes home to Connecticut confused and dispirited
after his Vietnam war tour-of-duty. Despite harboring a vague dream
of becoming a songwriter, Tom is unable to put dream into action.
His father, George (David Swartz), sees his son as lazy and ridicules
him mercilessly, despite the protestations of mother Molly (Theresa
Seeking emotional refuge, Tom develops a taste for liquor and the
local pub, where he meets a sexy bartender named Donna (Pam Linkin),
a crusty newspaperman named Charles (Steve Lobis), a Professor (James
Stieber), and a pack of well-meaning bar hounds (Curtis Kaine, Ed
Patton, Mickey Levitan, Phil Fagans, Marco Newton) who offer whimsical
wisdom on love and the merits of drinking.
Thinking that perhaps sex and love are the secrets to happiness, Tom
develops a crush on Natalie (Cat Miller), a pretty, young cashier
at a local store. Overcoming his shyness, Tom asks her out on a date;
they fall in love and are soon married. Before long, baby makes three.
But unfortunately Tom can’t hold a job, his personal life suffers,
and he retreats into alcohol and infidelity as a balm against his
sense of failure. With his troubles piling up, Tom struggles to find
a way out of his downward spiral. Buoyed by faith and community, Tom
and Natalie try to find the strength to come together again.
The first question most of us ask about a new musical is whether the
songs are any good: "Dreamers" is packed with bouncy, well-crafted
songs with lyrics that are sometimes brooding, sometimes flat-out
hilarious. Although the pace is brisk and the performances are strong
(musical arranger Jim Barto and musical director Susan Ferrara Barto
share credit here), the show runs close to three hours.
Doyle, a founding artistic director of Actors’ NET with tour experience
in Broadway shows, is a talented songwriter with a fine ear for persuasive
turns of phrase and clever quips. In fact, he has enough good songs
here for two musicals. Some of the best are "Love" (with the
memorable line, "We love Mother’s Day, but not in an Oedipus way"),
"One-Sided TV Love" (rattling off TV sitcom starlets from
Barbara Feldon to Marlo Thomas), and the gently plaintive "Where
Does the Time Go?"
Chuck Donnelly initially plays Tom simply as a good natured lag-about,
but shows some fine acting range in Act II when the play turns dark.
His singing voice, while not operatic, is certainly pleasant enough
to carry the evening. Cat Miller at Natalie is likable, tender, and
subtly sensual — important in a show that wears its bawdiness
on its sleeve. She sings nicely, particularly in her solo numbers.
When good love turns bad, she steers her character clear of whiny
bitterness, thus keeping the audience’s sympathy firmly with her.
David Swartz gives a highly stylized and amusing portrayal of Tom’s
dad George. But later, when the play calls for more depth, he is up
to the task. Theresa Forsyth Swartz as Molly has a beautiful and versatile
voice, and gives her character a real heart and soul. George and Molly’s
duet, "Where Does the Time Go?," is the show’s finest moment.
David Steiber oozes personality as the Professor, has a terrific singing
voice, and seems to have a lot of fun onstage; his absence from the
show’s second act is a loss. Steve Lobis as Charles is fun, in a down-home
way and he sings well. Pam Linkin is also nifty as bartender Donna.
The direction by Joe Doyle — who, besides authoring the show,
also plays a character named Brad — is crisp and energetic, but
never rushed. Set design by Cheryl Doyle (Joe Doyle’s wife and company
co-founder) is bare bones, quick to change, and works nicely. Costume
designs by Arlene Kohler and Cheryl Doyle are understated and yet
highlight the show’s historical background.
Doyle rates his show "R" but it seems more like "PG-13"
to me. Sex is discussed in locker-room lingo and there is a bit of
harmless groping of well-covered breasts, along with a smattering
of obscenities. Nothing you won’t find in an hour of HBO TV.
"Dreamers" in its premiere production is certainly too long
and will need to be trimmed. But it is a fun, entertaining show that
treats its audience like adults. Not only has Actors’ NET taken a
chance on a new work, but for the show’s creators and audience, that
chance pays off.
— Jack Florek
Morrisville, 215-295-3694. $15. Rated R. Runs to Sunday, September
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