by Mike “Buzz” Buzzelli, ‘Burgh Vivant.
It’s a familiar conceit, a large group of disparate characters converge on a country home for a weekend and soon everything is out of control. It’s become a theatrical trope as old as country homes themselves, such goes the tale of “Dulcy” at the Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre. Though it’s a worn device, director Cory Rieger breathes life into it with a terrific cast.
The action swirls around the titular heroine, Dulcy Smith (Melessie Clark) who just loves having company in her upstate abode. Her husband Gordon (LaMar Darnell Fields) is in the throes of a financial dilemma, he must sell off is pearl-making jewelry business to rich entrepreneur C. Roger Forbes (David Crawford). Dulcy decides to invite Forbes, his wife (Gayle Pazerski) and daughter, Angela (Sara Fisher) up to Westchester for the weekend. Then, she invites the Angela’s paramour, film writer Vincent Leach (Corey Rieger), much to the chagrin of Mr. Sterrett (Luke Chamberlain). Also in the house for the weekend are Dulcy’s brother William (Trevor Butler), the charming Schuyler Van Dyck (Matthew Robinson) and the Smith’s butler, Henry (Wali Jamal). Every one of them has their own agenda; the business deal, a pearl necklace and Angela’s attentions are the biggest storylines.
Meanwhile, the charming hostess Dulcy blunders from one scenario to another. If you look closely enough you’ll see the name Lucy hidden inside our heroine’s moniker, and there are a lot of similarities between Dulcy and the zany sitcom character, but, just like every episode of “I Love Lucy,” it all works out in the end. However, the journey to the happy ending is a difficult one, fraught with twists and turns. No spoilers, sweetie.
The main reason to go to this show is the cast, led by Clark. She’s is effervescent, a joy to watch. Actually, scenes without her drag a bit. Granted, the scenes without her are generally expository. She strolls into several set ups and provides the punchlines.
The play is not without flaws. There was a weird anachronism: the modern day cell phone reared its digital head. The story seemed to take place in the 30s or 40s, but with iPhones. They were irrelevant and unnecessary. It seemed odd to mention the Saturday Evening Post in a world with cell phones. Luckily, the Smith’s, the Forbes’s or any of the other houseguests refrained from taking selfies.
On the other hand, Dulcy and her houseguests lived in a colorblind version of the past, and it was a joyous paradise (albeit one laden with oddball situations and screwball hostesses).
There was also a weird moment when newlywed Dulcy was pushing the very-married Mrs. Forbes on her admirer, Mr. Van Dyck, but playwright’s Geroge S. Kaufman (a native Pittsburgher) and Marc Connelly (originally from McKeesport, PA) are no longer around to chastise for this choice (by the way, if you were wondering why a company named the Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre were dusting off a George S. Kaufman play, I am assuming the previous sentence provided the answer).
The play has some great performances. Jamal’s disgruntled butler gets a good laugh with every brief appearance. The very-talented Pazerski is underused here, but makes the best of her wispy plot threads. Chamberlain makes the most of the oft-ignored, easily forgotten Mr. Sterrett. Crawford is brilliantly comical as the much-maligned and easily-annoyed Forbes. Rieger chews on the well-appointed scenery as a buffoonish screenwriter with delusions of grandeur.
P.S. Speaking of scenery, Tony Ferreiri is one of the best scenic designers in Pittsburgh. His work on the Playwright’s stage is exceptional. The right color and tone, making grand use of a small space.
Side note: The most emotional moment of the Saturday, September 26th opening night show was Mark Clayton Southers triumphant return to the theater he founded in 2003. The artistic director, who was sidelined in May after a debilitating car accident, swelled with pride for his cast and crew. His speech even moistened the eyes of the stalwarts of cynicism.
The superb cast and the gorgeous set are great reasons to see “Dulcy.” But go for the man that began it. Go support diversity, home-grown talent and a champion of theater. Go for Mr. Mark Clayton Southers. He’ll be glad you did.
“Dulcy” runs from September 26 to October 11 at the Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre, 937 Liberty Avenue, Downtown Pittsburgh, PA 15222