Terrence McNally’s Dedication or the Stuff of Dreams, playing at the Guild Hall until December 6, is a love letter to theatre in an era when it needs all the love it can get.
Set in the dilapidated remains of a once-grand playhouse — the kind with balconies — Dedication focuses on the aspirations of Lou and Jesse (Eric Epstein and Roseann Stuckless), proprietors of a children’s theatre company that they run out of a local mall. For Lou’s birthday Jesse takes him to the stately old theatre for a look around. It’s filled with old props and costumes and the heady aura of productions long passed.
Lou can’t help but imagine all the wonderful things he could do with the place if he could only pry it from the withered fist of Annabelle, the sickly aristocrat who owns it.
At one point he opines that if the theatre was his, he would, “bite the heads off live chickens and worship Satan eight shows a week; I’d even do Annie.”
This is typical of the ironic dialogue that McNally’s script revels in.
Various characters tromp in and out of the scenes, including Jesse’s estranged rock star daughter, Ida (Eliane Cloutier), and her doormat, Toby, (Ryan McCallion).
George Maratos delivers laughs in a small role as Annabelle’s vain driver, Edward, and Jody Woodland rounds out the cast as Arnold, the technical director of the children’s theatre company.
On one level Dedication functions well as a sex comedy; various characters are humping, or interested in humping, various other characters. This is a time-tested comedic reservoir and McNally’s script draws plenty of water from the well.
However, the playwright also has an existential question on his mind:
What is the purpose of theatre if we are all going to die anyway?
McNally’s answer is that theatre is magical and transformative; it can make us feel immortal, if just for a moment. His script returns to this theme frequently.
“I think Cinderella changes lives,” Lou says, in one of Dedication’s less wordy proclamations.
Still, wordy or not, it is a point worth making.
All the actors deliver their lines with conviction, and there is nary a weak link to be found, but the play is at its sharpest, most suspenseful, and most touching when grand veterans of the Whitehorse stage, Mary Sloan and Eric Epstein, find themselves together.
Sloan is marvelously cantankerous as the dying millionaire, but it is not a one-note performance; she is bombastically bitchy one moment and quietly poignant the next. Epstein wisely refrains from upstaging Sloan and instead turns in a finely-tuned character study of a man hopelessly committed to the dramatic arts.
And Dedication’s gift to the audience is that it helps us understand why such people are so committed; why they sign up for seemingly endless rehearsals; why they refuse to give up on an ancient art form.
If you are in the mood for a funny, heartfelt play, the cast and crew of Dedication are ready to oblige.
Dedication or the Stuff of Dreams plays Wednesday to Saturday at the Guild Hall until Dec 6. Tickets range from $23-$25, depending on the day and are available at the door or Whitehorse Motors. Showtime is 8 p.m. sharp.