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June 24, 2005

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Publication Date: Friday, June 24, 2005

Irish stew in Dolly's Kitchen Irish stew in Dolly's Kitchen (June 24, 2005)

Drama works despite limp script, shallow accents

By Julie O'Shea

From the onset, it's obvious "Dolly West's Kitchen" is not your typical Irish-Catholic World War II-era drama.

One look at Andrea Bechert's richly manicured kitchen set automatically tells us we're not in the south of Ireland. This is not one of those of those weepy sob stories about growing up poor in Limerick that the literary world has taken a liking to over the past few years.

Instead, this is playwright Frank McGuinness' Ireland -- Buncrana, County Donegal, to be precise -- where there is plenty of food on the table, indoor plumbing and just three kids to a household. Set during the end of World War II, "Dolly" grapples with many of the same issues facing us today -- love, hate, family bonding, political strife.

We get the sense that McGuinness ("Someone Who'll Watch Over Me") is working up to some profound message, but it never quite materializes on the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts stage, where "Dolly" made its American premiere last weekend.

While TheatreWorks Artistic Director Robert Kelley's staging remains lovely, the show is hampered by a limp script that plods along and only occasionally offers insightful dialogue. The actors blundering accents don't help the situation either. Most start off so thick it's hard to decipher exactly what's being said. (No wonder TheatreWorks decided to put a word glossary in the playbill.) By the time the second act rolls around, however, many of the Irish brogues begin to fade.

Charlotte Cornwall is the only one who maintains a steady performance. Cornwall plays Rima, the West family's feisty, pub-loving matriarch. Her Rima is deliciously inappropriate, at one point asking her dinner guests: "What's it like with two men in the bed?" But just when you want to write her off as a trash-talking old crow, Mrs. West will take you off guard with a profound, thought-provoking little nugget of wisdom.

Christian Conn's flamboyantly gay GI is also a fun watch. Marco Delavicario is one of the two American soldiers Rima brings home from the pub one afternoon. From the moment Marco walks through the kitchen's side door, it's clear that he is there to bring some comic relief to an already tense family gathering. At times, Conn's antics seem a little over the top, but then he manages to balance things out nicely with a few tender scenes, particularly the ones he shares with Justin (Jeremy Bobb), the angry West son who mistrusts those not born in Ireland.

The action takes place in what has become affectionately known as Dolly West's Kitchen. Dolly, played by Stacy Ross, is Rima's eldest daughter. Smart, unmarried and stubbornly independent, Dolly has just returned home after spending years in Italy. She's cheerful and yet, at the same time, so utterly sad. All around her, people are falling in and out of love. She's loath to admit that she wishes she were one of those happy couples. Never once does she look up to see tall, handsome Alec Redding (Mark Phillips) staring at her from across the dinner table.

It is the subtle, unlikely romance of Dolly and Alec that keeps us enthralled, waiting with baited breath to find out if the boy eventually gets his girl.

Information

What: TheatreWorks presents "Dolly West's Kitchen" by Frank McGuinness Where: Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro St. When: Tuesdays at 7:30 p.m.; Wednesdays through Fridays 8 p.m. Saturdays at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.; Sundays at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.; "Visual Voice" audio-described performances are available July 8 and 9 at 8 p.m. and July 10 at 2 p.m.; closes July 10. Cost: $20-$52 Call: (650) 903-6000 or visit theatreworks.org


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