You can't argue with the fact that we've got a lot of damn fine theater going on in New York right now. I really hope Doris to Darlene doesn't slip between the cracks, because it's one of the best plays I've seen recently, even if it's not as earth-quaking as some of the high-drama stuff that's getting the spotlight right now.
Doris to Darlene: A Cautionary Valentine is a real ensemble piece, following the entirely distinct yet inextricably linked stories of varyingly fictional characters such as composer Richard Wagner, 60's girl-group star Darlene, and a present-day teenage music lover. The playwright, Jordan Harrison, weaves the three stories together so delicately that further plot description feels altogether beside the point - suffice it to say that Doris to Darlene is my favorite type of play: the kind that makes the audience feel emboldened to somehow get in there. Leaving the theater, I wanted to run home and listen to Wagner and 60's girl groups, and reconnect with that one high school teacher who I'm convinced really got it, without ever saying a word. It also just kinda made me want to be friends with Jordan Harrison, but that's another story.
The play itself is funny and compelling, and deeply moving without ever feeling pretentious or gooey. Harrison's play is an achievement, but the delicacy of it's message would be easily lost without the graceful, economical production surrounding it. The scenes are seamlessly woven together by way of two turntables that allow us to flow from one scene to the next with minimal effort and minimal distraction in shifting the focus between the stories. Designers Takeshi Kata, Jane Cox, Christal Weatherly, and Darron L West deserve so much credit for their work here.
The actors are uniformly fantastic, expertly cast and sensitively directed by Les Waters. Tom Nelis's performance is brutally truthful, hilarious, and heartbreaking. de'Adre Aziza is a perfect, effortless Darlene (look for her in Passing Strange, she was phenomenal in that, too). I was so psyched to see Tobias Segal, who was awesome and adorable in Victoria Martin: Math Team Queen, and proves here that he's going to be a force to be reckoned with in the camp of the young gawky actors - I predict indie film snatches him right up. Is it me, or does Les Waters have a way of accessing the unique beauty and truth in the actors he works with, and allowing that uniqueness to shine? I felt the same way watching Eurydice - his work leaves so much air and space for such sensitive performances.
So, to sum up, I know you're probably perspiring to get your hands on tickets for August: Osage County right now, but please also venture further west on 42nd street, cause Playwrights Horizons has got that good sweet stuff, too.