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“Amateurs” Reviews 1992

Fort Worth Star-Telegram
March 18, 1992

Well-assembled ensemble fills out the guest list  Perry Stewart  Star-Telegram Writer

Amateurs  Through April 11: 8:15 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, 2:30 and 8:15 p.m. Saturdays, 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. Sundays at Theatre Three in the Quadrangle, 2800 Routh St., Dallas  Tickets: $12.50-$25; $5 at April 4 matinee  Information: (214) 871-3300

DALLAS – Like the lighthouse keeper of Eugene Ionesco’s The Chairs, the party host in Amateurs is obsessed with providing places for his guests to sit. Poor Charlie is, in fact, an absurdist character trapped inside an otherwise conventional comedy.  Playwright Tom Griffin, who artfully juxtaposed humor and pathos in The Boys Next Door, has done it with slightly less skill in this comic and crypto-tragic turn currently on view at Theatre Three in Dallas. What makes Amateurs worth the drive down I-30 is the incisive staging of director/ designer Jac Alder and the performances of a uniformly excellent ensemble.  The most visible of these performers is longtime T3 favorite Laurence O’Dwyer as the sweetly addled Charlie. As the play opens, he is pajama-clad and ready for nighty-night when his wife reminds him that they are giving an opening night party for the local community theater group.  “Good lord, actors, ” he moans. “Hide the silver.”  It’s the first in a steady stream of theater and actor references – some a bit forced, most genuinely funny. You don’t have to be a theater insider to recognize the types, the fragile egos and the social politics. And you don’t have to be a sleuth to pick up the first-act harbingers of poignance and anger in Act 2.  The mercifully unseen play-with-the-play is a musical set in a funeral home. Jerry Crow (who played the martinet real estate manager in Stage West’s 1989 Glengarry Glen Ross) is the leading man, an “acrylic Adonis” who postures like heaven’s gift to womankind, but in reality is a mass of insecurities. Elizabeth Mitchell, as his leading lady, doesn’t help any with her  ego-withering barbs. Mitchell’s role is hardly one-dimensional as written, but the actress adds considerable depth. She is a rare combination of arresting beauty and finely honed wit. R. Bruce Elliott has played an extensive variety of roles in Fort Worth and Dallas. But rarely, if ever, has he played a heavy. He’s the villain of this piece, though, as Ernie, the oafish amateur actor whose buffoonery turns to cruelty. Jill Christine Peters (of the one-woman tour de force, Brendene: The Lady and Her Laundry ) is Ernie’s wife, who suffers him loyally but not silently.  In Theatre Three’s revival of Waiting for Godot last year, Terry Vandivort played Estragon (coincidentally, to O’Dwyer’s Vladimir). This time his comic opposite is a ventriloquist’s dummy. Vandivort creates a fascinating, multifaceted portrait of an introverted history teacher scrambling (no, stumbling) to break out of his shell. This actor marshals facial expression, vocal nuance and body language to superb effect. Vandivort veers into excess only once, with some meaningless, laugh-begging contortions in a chair.  Two late arrivals are important comedic/ dramatic catalysts. The loathed-by-some drama critic (Robert Andrews) is an invited guest. The leading man’s much younger former girlfriend (Kalen Hoyle) is not. Hoyle, recalled from Stage West’s recent I’m Not Rappaport, is a manic (“Jeepers!”) delight. Through no fault of Andrews, the character of the critic is little more than a set piece.  Sharon Bunn, as Charlie’s wife, does a marvelous job of conveying exasperated humor and loving support. And so it comes down to O’Dwyer’s endearing sketch of Charlie. Playwright Griffin supplies a reason for Charlie’s goofiness. O’Dwyer takes that poignant subtext and shuffles straight into your heart.

***

Preview
By Jerome Weeks The Dallas Morning News
Published February 28, 1992

WHAT: Amateurs
WHEN: Previews Saturday at 8:15 p.m., Sunday at 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. and Monday at 8:15 p.m. Regular run Wednesday through April 11, with performances each Tuesday through Friday at 8:15 p.m., Saturday at 2:30 and 8:15 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. (April 7 through 9 performances at 7:30 p.m.; miser matinee April 4 at 2:30 p.m.).
WHERE: Theatre Three, the Quadrangle, 2800 Routh
ADMISSION: Previews $12.50 to $15; regular shows $12.50 to $25; miser matinee $5. Call 871-3300 or Rainbow Ticketmaster at 373-8000 or metro 647-5700.

Written by Tom Griffin, the author of The Boys Next Door, Amateurs could be construed as a comedy about people who are a little off-kilter upstairs: It’s about amateur actors and theater artists. Mr. Griffin is a former member of Adrian Hall’s Trinity Repertory Theater in Providence, R.I. — which is where the play debuted — so he knows whereof he spoofs. Being given its area premiere by Theatre Three, Amateurs takes place at th e opening-night party of the Timberly Troupers, who are presenting a musical about that favorite Broadway topic: “singing funeral parlors.’ We meet the typical incompetents, dreamers, hangers-on and even the occasionally talented person of such organizations, including a nebbishy ventriloquist, a bullying leading man and a young actress who may be on her way to Hollywood. Into their midst comes (Jaws theme music starts up) — the local drama critic! Amateurs, directed by Jac Alder, is neither a horror story nor a sequel to Revenge of the Nerds.

***

Only pros can make “Amateurs” work  Theatre Three’s production rises far above contrived comic material
By Jerome Weeks Theater Critic of The Dallas Morning News
THE  Published March 4, 1992

The opening-night cast party that takes place in Amateurs includes an inept ventriloquist, a boorish man who thinks he’s a great comic and several other of the untalented and the merely inebriated who’d populate a community theater musical about “singing morticians.”  What this party of performers also includes, at least at Theatre Three, is several passable magicians who manage to make playwright Tom Griffin’s silly, contrived comedy actually funny.  If only for the first act.  Mr. Griffin’s play about hammy hijinks, backstage back-stabbings and the way~–gosh!~–actors occasionally lose touch with reality depends for too much of its humor on mere eccentricity.  We begin with the husband-host, Charlie, a mentally disconnected sort who keeps filling the living room with chairs because his wife asked him to get a few and he seems stuck inside a running gag and can’t get out.  Then in come the nervous ventriloquist, a kooky young punk girl who says “intensely intense” a lot and the boor with a wastebasket on his head, barking like a seal.  Oh, those wacky, wacky thespians.  Unfortunately, forced eccentricity is like Charlie’s in-the-ozone non sequiturs. After a while, it all becomes predictable and runs out of gas.  Someone makes an ordinary observation, and Charlie will reply, “I’m going to check the radon levels in this place.”  The same with the characters. Mr. Griffin can’t keep introducing even more nut cases or the room would be filled with singing firemen and goldfish swallowers. So he brings on the local theater critic and a dramatic surprise, and then he tries to tie things up with several fake poignancies.  The Theatre Three cast can’t help that Amateurs goes seriously amateurish in the second act.  Mr. Griffin’s earlier play about a group of retarded outpatients, The Boys Next Door, had much the same laughing-through-our-tears approach toward emotional illness.  By the end, the sentimentality and the warmhearted affection-condescension toward these actors is simply irritating. On the other hand, in the hands of director Jac Alder and especially Laurence O’Dwyer and Terry Vandivort, Amateurs plays far better than it has any right to.  As Charlie, Mr. O’Dwyer’s familiar repertoire of seemingly pointless, fuddled, fussy behavior makes him a natural, once again, to play a lost soul.  It also allows him to find laughs in between lines that wouldn’t grant a smile to another performer.  Similarly, as the ventriloquist, Mr. Vandivort brilliantly works his comic material with his indulgent smiles and fearful, darting glances.  At times, the physical gimmicks and muggings are blatant, but the two actors have a remarkably high average when it comes to comic payoffs.  Other performers score well, too, including Jerry Crow as a loudmouthed leading man, R. Bruce Elliott as a very believable, bullying boor and Jill Peters as his long-suffering but tart-tongued wife. As a cool but sexy ingenue,Elizabeth Mitchell has to play an unbelievable role, and do it in a miniskirt that has her yanking down her hemline half the evening. In a way, it’s almost galling the way Mr. Alder and company can have us occasionally enjoy, almost accept, thoroughly third-rate material. It doesn’t seem right. But even if they can make much of this material funny, no one can make it honest or truly touching.


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