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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

material?

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

September 15.

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

Forsyth Swartz).

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

Dreamers, Actors’ NET, 635 North Delmorr Avenue,

Morrisville, 215-295-3694. $15. Rated R. Runs to Sunday, September

15.


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