Playwright: Beau O'Reilly
At: Curious Theatre Branch
Phone: (773) 274-6660; $10
Runs through: July 14
In the program notes for The Dorothy Project, Beau O'Reilly writes: 'I … wanted to poke some cheerful fun at ourselves and our
peers. Along the way, the characters took over the story, and something more that just fun pokage happened.' More's the pity.
Characters can be as unruly and as undisciplined as children and, while the experience of having them 'take over' a writer's work
isn't as uncommon or even as psychotic as it might sound to those who have never put pen to paper in an attempt to create a fictitious
universe, characters sometimes need a firm hand in order for them to develop properly. Clearly, Beau O'Reilly's love for his
characters comes through: their fringe theater, performance art edginess shines through with affectionate familiarity. Like a doting
parent, though, perhaps O'Reilly's fondness for his creative offspring has clouded his vision and discipline here because The Dorothy
Project is an aimless work, unanchored, and in need of a firm swat on the butt.
I have long admired the edgy, innovative, and off-the-wall output of O'Reilly and others at Curious Theatre Branch. No matter
where their performances have been set up, there's always an admirable element of risk, and ample creative fuel that make their
simply produced, but often elaborately witty and creative vision shine.
The Dorothy Project is a sort of play within a play, as it seeks to chronicle the backstage intrigue, the competitiveness, and the joy
of theatrical creation. The Dorothy Project, as the play's principal conceit, concerns itself with a group of women engaged in putting
on an avant-garde, all-female theater festival. The project is the brainchild of a pair of lovable lesbians who have more money than
sense and more of an infatuation with the art (and artists) than any real talent or taste. Miss Nadine (Julie Caffey, in one of the
evening's funnier turns) and Maggie (Cecilie O'Reilly) are the couple who act as benefactors for the annual production and a parade
of eccentric types comes under their aegis. There's a too-eager-to-please director, Heather (Abby Cucci) who prefers the title curator,
an irritating 'performance artist' (Kat McJimsey), who swings from a trapeze and talks in an unaccountable growl most of the time, a
playwright, Winnie (Teresa Weed) who forgets that theater is a collaborative effort, and assorted others who come together to play out
O'Reilly's story. The problem with The Dorothy Project is that the story falters, and ends up going nowhere. By the close of the play,
the story has seemed to have done a lot of meandering, but never arrived at any destination.
There's good work here. The ensemble is mostly capable, spirited, and committed. Curious Theatre Branch makes good use of its
new, and larger, home in Rogers Park. The three-pronged direction (by O'Reilly, Stefan Brun, and Heidi Broadhead) is sharp and on
target. Now, if the story could just be whipped into better form. Forget the inside jokes. The play needs a little distance and objectivity
to get off the ground and truly be funny, which it aspires to do. Near the play's end, creative 'genius' Mary Zimmerman makes a
fictitious appearance and is royally skewered. The Dorothy Project needs that kind of edge. It's there … O'Reilly just needs to dig
deeper to find it.