by Hugh Hunter
“Don’t Talk to the Actors” (2007) is a memorable comedy by Tom Dudzick that is currently being staged by The Drama Group in Germantown.
Jerry (Adam Corbett) is a young playwright who travels to New York with his naïve fiancee Arlene (Stephanie Stoner) to promote his play, “Tuning Pianos.” From a bare bones studio in a theater district skyscraper, these innocents abroad try to find their stride on Broadway.
It is rough going. Veteran director Mike (David DelBianco) is honest and straightforward when he tells Jerry, “Don’t talk to the actors.” Had Jerry followed this sensible advice, he would have had an easier time of it, but we would not have a play.
Everything about “Don’t Talk” is inside out. Act two is longer than act one – normally a recipe for disaster. But here act two is so full of energy you are glad you stayed and sorry to see the play end.
Still, I wish playwright Dudzick had written a better opening scene. It does serve to introduce all the players, but in its lack of dramatic interaction, you only learn about the characters via dialogue that tells you who they are.
But your experience changes in act two when the story really gets going. Lucinda (Michele S. Scutti) stands alone as a nerdy, details-obsessed stage manager. You are happy for her when she resolves an off-stage romance and turns into an assured and glamorous woman.
But you do not feel the same kind of simple, benign regard for the over-the-hill actors who try to resuscitate their careers at Jerry’s expense. Mort Paterson is wonderfully comic as Curt, a disingenuous rascal who entices starry-eyed Arlene and connives to get Jerry to re-write “Tuning Pianos” to make his own role more prominent.
Carole Mancini plays Beatrice, an actress with a vaudeville flair. From their old days together, Beatrice knows all about Curt and his tricks. But she can play the game too, and Beatrice threatens to leave unless Jerry humors her with enough jokes and songs so that she can strut her stuff.
The Drama Group show is just awash in internal irony. Actress Mancini is a last-minute substitute playing a character who threatens to walk out. Curt keeps demanding re-writes of the fictional play, something playwright Dudzick should do with act one of “Don’t Talk.”
And yet, this play about putting on a play has a theme that shines through: the need to submerge egos in order to pursue a shared vision. It is a lesson we all need to learn, and maybe that is why the grand finale of “Don’t Talk to the Actors” puts such a big smile on your face.
The Drama Group is located at First United Methodist Church, 6001 Germantown Ave. Due to its opening week cancellation, “Don’t Talk to the Actors” will only run through March 23. Tickets available at the door, or at www.thedramagroup.org.
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