“Amateurs” Review By The Dallas Morning News

Part of “Old Info And News”

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.

Full article after the break.

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
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.