Saturday, December 8, 2007

Doris to Darlene: A Cautionary Valentine
Written by Jordan Harrison
Directed by Les Waters
November 16 to December 23, 2007

Playwrights Horizons
416 West 42nd Street

There’s a good play to be written about the relationship between pop producer-impresario Phil Spector and one of his major discoveries, singer Ronnie Spector. Doris to Darlene: A Cautionary Valentine by Jordan Harrison is definitely not it, since its fictionalized version of their story is gimmicked up by two other plots and aimless writing that, taken together, represents the author’s confusion over what he’s trying to say.

The discovery of Doris by music bigshot Vic Watts, who transforms her into the hit-making Darlene, is intercut with scenes of composer Richard Wagner struggling to create his operas with the help of teenaged King Ludwig, for no reason other than Watts loves Wagner’s music and pretentiously compares his pop ditties to the “Liebestod” in Tristan and Isolde; the other subplot concerns a high school student emboldened to confront his own sexuality thanks to Mr. Campani, an gay, opera-loving music teacher.

Any of these three couples might have made compelling protagonists, but by shuffling them around the stage for two acts, Harrison doesn’t create any meaty or insightful characterizations. Thanks to his haphazard writing, the Doris/Watts pairing comes off more distant than either Wagner/Ludwig or the music class, which makes us impatient for the main characters to exit so we can watch something slightly more interesting.

Director Les Waters handles the shifting stories fluidly, although his actors—some of whom do double duty—are only competent at handling this flimsy material. As Doris/Darlene, de'Adre Aziza never convincingly becomes a radiant pop star, while Michael Crane simply caricatures Spector. The best portrayals are given by Tom Nelis as a touching Mr. Campani and Laura Heisler, who makes the mad Ludwig the sanest, most sympathetic person onstage.
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