Doris to Darlene, a cautionary valentine

At its start, Jordan Harrison’s new play feels like an extended set of musical liner notes, exploring the journey of a stirring leitmotif (the Liebestod theme in Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde) from 19th Century opera into the bubble gum pop music of a Sixties girl group. Harrison’s characters frequently speak in the third person, explaining their thoughts and actions to the audience, underlining the parallels that connect the play’s three storylines. One of them remarks that great art can make an audience member “lose their lunch”; while clever, the first half of Doris to Darlene noticeably lacks that visceral effect. Scenes between Wagner and mad King Ludwig II play mostly for Bavarian buffoonery, while the story of Doris, the eponymous pop singer, and the producer who makes her a star has little more depth than Dreamgirls.

As an explicator of music’s mystical power, Harrison is no match for Mr. Campani (Tom Nelis), the buttoned-up high school music teacher in the play’s contemporary storyline who once trained to sing opera and remains under its spell. As the story focuses in on Campani and his young would-be protégé, the third person narration drops out of the dialogue and Harrison finds new juice in the familiar dramatic dynamic of homoerotically charged mentorship between teacher and student. Though the Liebestod seems to have been played ad nauseum, Harrison, like any good soprano, has saved something for his finale; in its emotional concluding moments, this intellectually artful play finally sings.

*For more about the play, visit the Playwrights Horizons website.



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