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NY Theater Reviews

de'Adre Aziza, Michael Crane, and David Chandler/PH:J.Marcus

STUMBLING DOWN MEMORY LANE

By Sandy MacDonald

There's a germ of an original play in playwright Jordan Harrison's Doris to Darlene. Only it's buried in the same old same old.

Three half-plays don't make a whole. As the product of a tripartite, genetically engineered plot, Doris to Darlene (with its apprehensive subtitle) proves a hybrid of questionable viability.

The main story line concerns a midwestern teen of the 60s, Doris (played a bit too wide-eyed, at least in her 16-year-old incarnation, by De'Adre Aziza), who dreams of becoming a pop star. She hops a bus after school, auditions for one Vic Watts (aviator-shaded Michael Crane) and, presto - fast as you can say Phil Spector - Darlene-nee-Doris bullets to the top of the charts and burrows into her impresario's heart. They set up house in Malibu. But all is not well in Lalaland: four lads from Liverpool loom menacingly on the horizon.

Spliced into this scenario is the tenuously linked tale of the passion that King Ludwig II (Laura Heisler, employing a Cherman accent that sounds as if she's chewing cotton batting) entertains for Richard Wagner (David Chandler , who maintains a certain dignity), and yet another parallel story about a contemporary high-schooler (Tobias Segal ) who, while struggling to come to terms with with his homosexuality, finds comfort in Darlene and the Daybreakers tracks and the hands-off help of his music teacher (Tom Neils), a failed singer and major Wagner fan.

You'd think that, given all the cross-cutting, the action would be fairly lively, a three-ring circus - but you'd be wrong. The playwright's decision to have the actors dictate stage directions and action synopses on top of their lines has a deadening rather than distancing effect. Props (and perhaps some royalties) are due Paul Rudnick, whose Valhalla (2004) mined a similar pairing of gay awakening and Mad King Ludwig, only much more amusingly and insightfully. The Dreamgirls overlay is similarly derivative, or would be if it weren't tissue-thin. The play briefly sputters to life as the young man - playwright Jordan Harrison apparently dares not give him a name - contemplates making a first move with a bad-boy classmate (Crane again, who is incisive in both roles). There's the germ of an original play here, which the playright has cautiously - and uncourageously - buried in this obfuscatory shuffle.