On Saturday night, Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company welcomed home a local theatre icon by opening its 2015-2016 season with an up-tempo farce, Dulcy. While I may or may not be talking about George S. Kaufman and Marc Connelly, the two Pulitzer and Tony winning playwrights who were also Pittsburgh born-and-raised, I’m definitely talking about Mark Clayton Southers, the founder and producing artistic director of the company, who for the first time appeared in public after suffering severe injuries from a horrible car accident in May. During an emotional curtain speech, Mr. Southers spoke about his comfort to finally be back to the theatre again, and expressed his gratitude to his family, friends, and loyal supporters in the audience seats for keeping the company going.
Written originally in 1921, Dulcy tells a story about a chatty, over-the-top, always energetic woman, who tries to help her husband’s jewelry business by inviting his associates and friends coming over for dinner. But because sometimes Dulcy’s unshakable positivity and “perfect plans” aren’t exactly the best ideas for certain situations, the dinner party eventually turned into a chaotic train wreck, with butlers gone missing, children eloping, and handsome billionaire turning into mysterious strangers. It was one of George Kaufman’s earliest Broadway hits—in fact his very first collaboration with Marc Connelly, and a classic comedy that will make you laugh while digesting all the plot twists.
Following the company’s artistic and cultural vision, director Corey Rieger intentionally cast African American actors for all the major roles in this production to give the play a modern touch with a “Pittsburgh spirit”. Title role was played by Melessie Clark, who precisely captured the character’s sunshine personality and “oh honey” silliness. Every time Dulcy enters or leaves the stage, Ms. Clark made sure that the audiences were well aware of the character’s presence in the scene. Her exaggerated physical language and patter-like talking style will hit the comedy button right on without overshadowing the plot. Dulcy’s butler Henry was played by Pittsburgh Playwrights’ seasoned veteran Wali Jamal. Although the character doesn’t have many lines, Mr. Jamal gave this role such a memorable and comedic performance that even when the character is just walking on stage, the laughter is guaranteed.
LaMar Darnell Fields and Trevor Butler played Dulcy’s other two family members—her husband Gordon Smith, and brother William (Bill) Parker. These two characters both have strong objectives in the story but with relatively weaker personalities. The dynamic between Gordon and Dulcy naturally presents another conflict in the story, where Dulcy tries to help him, but Gordon wants to handle this business on his own. Mr. Fields definitely showed us the frustration in the character, but sometimes the switch between angry and happy happened so fast that we couldn’t help but think if Gordon is just a pushover husband. As for Bill, his contribution to the plot didn’t come in until the very last scene, so for most of the time he just acts as a distraction to the tension in the room. We knew there had to be something going on with this role, but Mr. Butler’s portrait at those key dramatic moments weren’t as attention attracting as the other characters that the final revelation of Bill being actually an important part in Dulcy’s “game plan” seemed to be rather abrupt and confusing. Perhaps that is the surprise after all?
And then comes the Forbes family, Dulcy’s honorable guests and main target for the night. David Crawford played Gordon’s business associate, C. Roger Forbes, whose grumpiness will make you believe that he is the biggest victim of this unfortunate incident. Sara Fisher played the rebel daughter, Angela, who has a great chemistry on stage with her new exciting lover Vincent Leach, a hippie screenwriter played by director himself Corey Rieger. And Gayle Pazerski played Mrs. Forbes, an understanding mom but a frustrated wife who is apparently also longing for taboo romance at a guest dinner party.
The rest of the casts added great depth to the overall comedic narrative but with a diverse delivery. Luke Chamberlain played a “late to everything” advertising agent Tom Sterrett, who will occasionally raise the level of awkwardness in the scene and make you feel bad for his invisible destiny. Matthew Robison played Schuyler Van Dyck, a handsome billionaire with a shallow and clumsy personality. And Brian Czarniecki played Blair Patterson, whose “too little too late” presence introduces a perfect new conflict in the story, but by the way everything is resolved in the end it will make you wonder, “Is it really necessary to add another character just for the sake of plot twists?”
Dulcy is a three-act play with two intermissions and 11 characters. Therefore the blocking and pacing of each scene is no easy task for any director. However, Mr. Corey Rieger navigated brilliantly that the audience was amazed by one climax after another. I personally enjoyed the contemporary feeling at certain scenes where the characters would talk on cell phones but still speak the old fashioned language. It brings this aged story closer to our modern audience with an understandable touch that won’t heavily interfere with the general farce-like storytelling.
The design team did a wonderful job of presenting an updated 1921 picture while maintaining the comedic atmosphere. Tony Ferrieri’s scenic design once again wowed the Pittsburgh audience with its incredible details and human tenderness. Cheryl El-Walker’s costumes brought out the essence of each character’s personality perfectly with a vivid color spectrum. And when even the piano music being played by the character on stage live is integrated as a part of the narration, you just know you’re in for a great treat.
Dulcy is a story about people with strong personalities, and how the dynamic between different class, gender, and social background can play out humorously. Although some of the dramatic tension and confrontational moments weren’t always delivered substantially, the overall production delivers a fun time with exciting stories and lots of laughter.
Under the leadership and guidance of Mr. Mark Clayton Southers, for 12 years Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company has been dedicated to explore the works of local talents and promote cultural diversity in the Pittsburgh theater community. With this beacon of energy and artistry, and this Dulcy-style “never give up” spirit, I firmly believe that the road to the future from here will only be brighter.
Presented by Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company
Directed by Corey Rieger
Written by George S. Kaufman and Marc Connelly
Designed by Cheryl El-Walker (costumes), Tony Ferrieri (scenery), Madeleine Steineck & Bob Steineck (lighting), Mark Whitehead (sound), Lizzee Solomon (poster art), and Marti Williams (stage manager).
Starring Melessie Clark (Dulcy), LaMar Darnell Fields (Gordon Smith), Trevor Butler (William Parker), Wali Jamal (Henry), Luke Chamberlain (Tom Sterrett), David Crawford (C. Roger Forbes), Gayle Pazerski (Mrs. Forbes), Sara Fisher (Angela Forbes), Corey Rieger (Vincent Leach), Matthew Robison (Schuyler Van Dyck), and Brian Czarniecki (Blair Patterson).
Special Thanks to Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company for the complimentary press tickets. The show runs until October 11th. For more information about their season productions and ticketing, check out their website www.pghplaywrights.com
Performance Date: Saturday, September 26, 2015