Looking for an alternative to the same old holiday celebrations? If so, check out Dollface, an off-beat comic musical at Theater for the New City. The show is at times irreverently hilarious despite being a bit uneven overall. Its heart is in the right place, however, and its sentiment triumphs in the long run. The storyline focuses on Dolores Zuckerman, a young woman living in Queens hoping for her big break into television stardom as a comedienne. At the same time, she is also wishing for her fiancé of thirteen years to pop the question. A monkey wrench is thrown into Dolores’s life plans when she finds herself entangled in a local jewelry heist that turns lethal for a neighbor’s wife. From here, the plot races forward as the various residents try to ascertain exactly what happened and who is to blame.
The play is given an ingenious framing device. By opening the show with a staged advert for an imaginary cigarette brand, the audience is immediately given the sense of being in a 1950s television program and not in the realm of reality. However, this context is quickly forgotten as the audience is introduced to a slew of characters and an intricately woven, if at times overly complicated, plot. There are extraneous threads in this musical, such as Dolores’s short-lived occupation as a health aide in an assisted living facility. These subplots appear to be included solely as vehicles for comic elements and are therefore unnecessary to the already dense plot unfolding on stage.
In general, the production’s main flaw is its length. Clocking in at nearly two hours, the plot line feels too weak to warrant such a long theatrical telling. Sequences seem to go on longer than needed, particularly due to musical reprises. In addition, the change over times between scenes often seem unnecessarily long. The pauses between one scene and the next end up acting as a distancing, if inadvertent, break to the dramatic action unfolding on stage. The humor of the piece is frequently diffused because a joke is stretched past the point of being clever or a punch line is too long deferred. Some of the raunchier elements are quite witty, but there are innuendos that perhaps go too far or are too blatant to be as funny as that might be. The show is best when it is suggestive, employing double entendres, rather than when it is just broadcasting the sexual or scatalogical joke.
The main strength of this production is its actors. The performances are all quite good, with Linda Shell giving a particularly notable turn in the title role. All of the actors pull off their characters with a touch of charm and a great deal of humor. It is easy to like Dolores and the band of misfits that she has assembled around her, and this is due in great part to how sympathetically they are portrayed. The piece has the potential to easily become one in which the audience laughs at dated stereotypes. Rather than giving into this somewhat clichéd impulse, these performers bring out their personages’ most likable characteristics. In its absurdity, this play feels like a realistic rendering of an outer borough New York City neighborhood in the mid-twentieth century.
There is great fun to be had at Dollface. The sense of innocence that has become synonymous with 1950s television programming is, oddly enough, ubiquitous in this so-called raunchy musical. Dolores is a protagonist who is easy to root for and this production does a commendable job of spotlighting her. This production serves as a welcome interruption to the conventional warm and fuzzy holiday entertainments. In so doing, it allows its spectators to walk away feeling just as charmed as they would have from a more traditional holiday tale.