As a mildly thought-provoking piece on domestic violence, Dolores, the 1986 play by Edward Allen Baker isn’t bad. That being said, the current BATS production isn’t really good either.
Set in the 1980s, in Rhode Island, Dolores (Barbara Woods) shows up unannounced and unwelcome at her sister Sandra’s (Renée Sheridan) house, sporting a black eye and on the run from the husband that put it there. It becomes immediately obvious why Sandra tries immediately to push Dolores right back out the door – she’s constantly in trouble and in her desperation has no problem milking her sister’s kindness for all it’s worth.
Aside from a few poignant moments of sadness and reflection, somewhat stilted acting and Sally Richards’ clumsy directing suck most of the urgency out of what ought to be a provocative subject. Though the script is more than two decades old, spousal violence is as timely of a subject as ever, perhaps more so by the remarkable silence that still surrounds the issue. Instead, this production feels outdated and irrelevant.
Dolores is billed as a comedy, but the laughable aspects of the performance were certainly not the ones intended by the director. The “Rhode Island” accents (which seemed to aim closer to somebody’s Ma in the Bronx than a housewife in Providence) were sloppy and irregular; Ms. Woods’ “period” costume was a caricature of bad ‘80’s fashion – if such a thing were possible. The moment in which Dolores dramatically rips off her sunglasses to reveal her black eye was disappointingly flat – one could only differentiate between the bruise makeup and her lurid orange eye shadow by the expectations raised by the promotional poster in the lobby.
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In a space as tiny as the BATS Theatre, creating a sense of claustrophobia should be a simple task for Ms. Richards’ set design. But the kitchen in which the play’s action occurs is left with enough empty space around the edges, and the actors use it so regularly, that what should imply a sense of entrapment in a life of pain and fear does nothing of the sort. The revelation at the end of the play ought to engender an impending doom for these two women, but the limpness of the production undermines any power in the script.
The best thing about Dolores’ visit is that it is over in a mere 50 minutes.
Written by Edward Allen Baker
Directed by Sally Richards
With Barbara Woods and Renée Sheridan