Darlene and The Guest Lecturer
The Guest Lecturer follows with a satire on American theater. Mona, the director of a failing community playhouse, employs sex and violence to lure audiences to her guest-lecturer series. The Thistle Dew’s audience becomes the bloodthirsty lecture crowd, which the actors address directly. Wright reappears as the lecturer, a better role for his understated acting style. Sara Townsend deliberately overacts Mona, swooning with dramatic pretension, to good comedic effect. Gregg Collette injects much-needed energy as the playhouse’s blustery chairman of the board. It’s all underscored by Jeff Schulz, the onstage pianist whose facial expressions and musical interjections add welcome color.
Both plays hinge on murderous events, but neither generates the punch necessary to move from a clever setup into a transporting story. Though written in the 1990s, the material seems dated. The relationship between Angela, a housewife whose chief excitement is “going into town,” and her suit-and-tie husband, Jim, seems straight out of the 1950s. Similarly, when the guest lecturer finds his life threatened, his reaction is a wistful “What a jerk I’ve been!” Sometimes murder livens things up; sometimes not.