Dolores – The right actor, the right character, the right time. (Theatre Review)

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Dolores

Old Fitzroy Theatre

28 April to 9 May. You can grab your tickets here.

Photo credits – Rupert Reid

We’re spared the usual problem with Edward Allen Barker productions, in that Red Line has not fostered two of his down-beat efforts on us together, which helps a great deal in confronting the tough message and intensity packed forty minutes of Dolores. In fact, they’ve placed the play against the back half of the Orphans run, which makes for an emotional rollercoaster of an evening, but a good fit none the less, as we watch, first brothers dealing with the complexity of familial relationships and then, close in time and space, sisters. Orphans, written in 1983 is set in North Philadelphia and Dolores, written in 1986 is set just a four-hour drive away in Rhode Island. This creates an interesting mash-up of two plays that depict a particular time in the Ronald Regan era, when trickle-down economics was the flavour of the month and Regan was successfully leading the USA out of the early 80’s recession with dramatic tax cuts to the wealthy while cutting services to the poor. It’s a brilliant piece of strategic programming on the part of Red Line Productions – one that increases the depth of the two plays while broadening the perspective through which they can be appreciated.

Dolores then, becomes a precursor to the early nineties criticism of neo-conservatism that invaded theatre, such as ‘in-yer-face theatre’. Dolores speaks about people who were slipping through the cracks of a rising society obsessed with wealth and the middle class virtues of responsibility and effort, as it was happening to them. It also happens to be a play about domestic violence when the criminal justice system was woefully undereducated in how to handle domestic abuse. The combination of rising unemployment, fewer social services and turning a blind eye to domestic violence resulted in a terribly dangerous time for women, who were statistically safer on the streets late at night than in their own home. It was also a time when victims were seen as people who brought hardship upon themselves.

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And so, currently at The Old Fitz theatre, we are lucky enough to have this 80’s double bill, but there is more to Dolores than its political statements about Reaganomics. Every now and then in theatre you are lucky enough to see the perfect combination of character and actor, one of those strange and beautiful units when the real and the imagined come together to create a universe inside the human condition. Dolores provides one of those magical moments in the work of Kate Box who so embodies this character Dolores, we get a glimpse inside a world of women with a cry similar to her own. Edward Allen Bakers at times flawed words (they’re often just too poetic for women in this socio-economic group and romanticism about the poor is almost worse than the increase of their number through politics) melt toward his intended meaning and lose all jarring qualities in the hands of Kate Box who instinctively knows how to humanise when Baker doesn’t. It’s a remarkable display, made all the more so with the mirror performance of Janine Watson as Sandra, Dolores’ prickly but kind-hearted sister. Janine Watson gives the emotional space for Box’s intricate performance, beautifully reflecting Dolores’ tragedy with her humanity first and her own tragic circumstances second.

All this on the again repurposed set of, first Freak Winds, then Orphans and then rapidly transformed in the fifteen minute break before the late show starts. The Dolores set is warmed up with a kitchen sink, an almost shattered blind against the window and the lovely touch of a beanbag and the smattering of children’s toys on the ground. The short forty minute play opens with Watson relishing in a brief weekly moment of private time, one of those sacred spaces between children and husband women so rarely get to enjoy, when they shirk duty and can be themselves for thirty minutes, often for the first and final time that day. Sandra wants her moment with a coke, a cigarette, a cupcake and a mindless mag – the stuff of brief, unfettered bliss – but it is soon interrupted by the arrival of her sister Dolores, sporting a black eye, pursued by a husband threatening to kill her. It turns out it’s just another day for these sisters, who have been dealing with shocking brutality all their lives.

Dolores starts with that much fire and doesn’t let up for its short time, packing a huge narrative arc into a small time frame laced with wit and wisdom. While this would normally work against it, the work of these two actresses is such that their consistency takes over time and one has the distinct impression of having been in a much longer play. Dolores doesn’t even go for an hour, and yet in the hands of these two women it will live on in your memory for years and years. Make sure you get to the Old Fitz to see it – preferably with Orphans if you haven’t managed the first one yet.

Highly recommended.

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