Story: It’s tough living in New York City. Just ask Owen Dobbs and his wife Abby, who share a one-bedroom, walk-up apartment behind a perpetually locked door. Or ask Owen’s mother Helen, who casts a wary eye for muggers whenever she ventures to her older son’s home. You could ask Natalie, a colleague of Abby’s who has a penchant for regretting one-night stands with strange guys she meets in rowdy bars. And you certainly should ask Cameron, Owen’s younger brother who is accidentally tripped by a blind woman outside Owen’s apartment, resulting in a very swollen nose and a dress shirt ruined by the subsequent faucet effect of blood cascading down from Cameron’s somewhat large proboscis.
He’s a mess, which is a bummer considering that he’s looking forward to celebrating his 30th birthday with his brother and sister-in-law. Of course, he doesn’t know that Owen has invited their mother (Abby didn’t know that, either) or that Abby has arranged a blind date for Cameron with Natalie (a surprise to Owen). That would unsettle the strongest of men, but there’s more: Cameron confides to Owen that he’s been out of work for five months, having been terminated for an embarrassing episode on company property. Hope springs eternal, though, right? Surely even a schlub such as Cameron Dobbs, earnestly described by his mother as “weak and vulnerable and simple-looking,” will have his day. One never knows, do one?
Highlights: West End Players Guild, now in its 101st season, is on a roll this year, with superior productions of the clever Murdering Marlowe and the feisty The Seafarer already under its belt. Now, WEPG is presenting the world premiere of this two-act comedy by Union, Mo. native and local actor Stephen Peirick, and the result is a rousing, rollicking success. This first production of any of Peirick’s full-length works has been lovingly nurtured and stylishly crafted by director Robert Ashton and a first-rate cast that shows impressive aplomb developing their characters and delivering Peirick’s fitfully funny dialogue with flair and finesse.
Other Info: That’s not to say there aren’t problems with Cameron Dobbs. The delightful and often deliriously droll first act leaves too high a bar for the weaker second act to match. Peirick might consider trimming at least 10 minutes following the intermission, since his well-established characters essentially retread familiar ground at that point, even if there are enough laughs remaining to get the comedy eventually to its sweet conclusion.
Essentially, though, Wake Up Cameron Dobbs is very, very funny and sharply crafted by the playwright. His characters show a solid consistency, an attribute that is accentuated by the carefully packaged portrayals each of the performers brings to the equation. Additionally, director Ashton does a fine job positioning his actors, never more so than when the awkward Cameron’s body language and physical distance from Natalie is humorously evident in his brother’s living room, the single set for this comedy.
John Foughty is wonderful depicting Cameron, an adult Charlie Brown who plugs along in life despite a brother who still doesn’t know that Cameron is allergic to nuts or a sister-in-law whose left-handed praise notes that Cameron “is OK-looking and gainfully employed,” or a mother who doubts he was tripped by a blind woman, preferring a story about muggers instead, or a blind date who expresses her disappointment in Cameron even while he’s within hearing range. Through all of the insults and unknowing put-downs, Foughty’s Cameron perseveres just like Charlie Brown trying to fly that kite.
Eric Dean White excels as Cameron’s self-centered yet oddly well-meaning brother, who conveniently arranges for his wife to cook his own favorite meal, not Cameron’s, at his brother’s birthday party. Colleen Backer brings her accomplished ability with deadpan comic delivery to the fore in crafting an endearing portrayal of Cameron’s well-intentioned sister-in-law, Abby.
Sarajane Alverson makes the most of costume designer Colleen Heneghan’s tiger-on-the-prowl wardrobe to accentuate the aggressive personality and good-time intentions of Natalie. As Helen, Jan Meyer is both thoroughly convincing and dryly amusing as the boys’ overbearing and insistent mother, who can turn from effusively complimentary to a marriage prospect for her bachelor son into an insult machine when Natalie “the whore” doesn’t warm immediately to Cameron.
Ken Clark’s set captures the modest living conditions of Owen and Abby with their functional living-room furniture, while Anthony Anselmo adds some nice touches with the lighting, particularly when the rising son wreaks havoc with Cameron’s hung-over head. Anna Blair’s makeup suitably reflects the day-after look of Cameron’s confrontation with concrete, and Renee Sevier-Monsey’s amusing props include Star Wars figurines for “action figure collector” Cameron’s birthday cake. Chuck Lavazzi’s sound design, especially Cameron's Star Wars ring, adds musical icing.
Natalie’s suggestion to her would-be date to “Wake up, Cameron Dobbs” need not apply to the audience, as Ashton’s direction and the interpretations of his sparkling cast makes the most of Peirick’s witty and amusing script. But, please, keep that door locked.
Rating: A 4 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Play: Wake Up, Cameron Dobbs
Group: West End Players Guild
Venue: Union Avenue Christian Church, 733 Union Blvd.
Dates: March 2, 3, 4
Tickets: $20; contact 367-0025 or WestEndPlayers.org
Photos courtesy of John Lamb