BWW Review: DEAR PENELOPE - A Love Letter To Girl Buddies

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DEAR PENELOPE by Kat Sparks, produced by SouthWest Theatre Productions that played a short two week run at the Dougherty Arts Center is a sweet love letter to girlfriend/buddy situation comedy.
The show centers on the DEAR PENELOPE advice column and live helpline for the fictitious multimedia corporation Bluestone Communications. The central cast of characters comprise a sisters-in-arms trio against the business giant and it's soul crushing employee practices. The women who have been exiled to the deepest recesses of the basement are disgraced former producer Alex (Jan Wallace-Phillips), acerbic former ace reporter Veris (Maureen Slabaugh) and perky youngster, former weather girl, Jolly (Heather DeMartini). Throw in lovesick mailroom worker Wendell (Keith Paxton) we have the setup for something insane to happen. Life in the Bluestone version of purgatory is a living hell for these women once at the top of their careers. Each of them have fantasies about how the will be whisked away back to the land of the living, upstairs. Enter Darby (Will Cleveland) the boss who can change their destiny with a stroke of his pen. But alas, Darby only brings another woman Tony (Beth Burroughs) to share their fate. But it's Tony that brings our girls a stroke of brilliance and a way to break out of their proverbial dungeon. The plan goes awry, a viral video is involved, but the whole thing wraps up in a happy ending for all.

There were some truly wonderful moments from each cast member and the action moved well for the most part. The play is reminiscent of several extremely popular plays by Jones, Hope and Wooten, the bond between women working together for a slightly insane cause is their stock and trade and Sparks makes great strides with DEAR PENELOPE. It's always refreshing to see strong female roles on stage where they have traditionally taken a backseat to leading men. The charm of the play comes from well written, snarky dialogue and when the stage microphones are working, it is wonderful. However, the mic system at the DAC muffled the actors lines far too many times and parts were completely unintelligible early on. It's a frustrating situation for an audience trying to catch every word.

Maureen Slabaugh as Veris delightfully exudes the utter contempt for her lowered situation but still shows the inner glimmer of her former self. Jan Wallace-Phillips is wonderful as Alex, the voice of reason and the spiritual heart of the group. Heather DeMartini as Jolly, is perky and sweet, but is just shy of the mark in making a true ensemble out of the trio of friends. As Tony, Beth Burroughs gives an aloof and superior air to her character, as someone who truly believes that she is destined for something greater. As is the norm for the girl/buddy genre, the male characters are underdeveloped and are all too forgettable though Keith Paxton as Wendell makes a valiant effort to rise above an underwritten role.

DEAR PENELOPE, is definitely entertaining with more than a few great laughs, an enjoyable evening of light hearted fun.

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From This Author Lynn Beaver