If ignorance is bliss, Dotty Burke is in a state of euphoria. Dotty is the heroine of “Out of Sterno,” a play by Deborah Zoe Laufer making its area premiere at South Bend Civic Theatre. The comedy takes a creative look at one young woman’s journey from happy (?) housewife to enlightened adult. The Sterno in question is not canned heat but the name of the small Midwestern town in which Dotty and her husband, Hamel, have lived for their entire married life of seven years.
Actually, Hamel lives in the town. Dotty lives in their apartment which, as he reminds her every evening between coming home for a change of clothes and a smiley-face hamburger and rushing out to a “meal meeting”, she is never to leave. Dotty spends the days creating papier mache household appliances and watching the couple’s first meeting recreated on video and happily does as she is told. The crack in her “perfect” reality comes in the form of a taxi driver who stirs some suspicions and insists on taking her to Hamel’s “meeting.” As reality seeps in, Dotty looks for answers in magazines, from public transportation “bus buddies” and from Zena, a hardened multi-divorcee divorcee and former Miss TriBoro Area. She is the owner of Zena’s Beauty Emporium and Hamel’s secret lover. She also becomes Dotty’s employer. En route to her eventual emancipation, Dotty — and her life — undergo a variety of changes, not the least of which are discovering her own talent (as an “appliance manicurist” she paints toasters, etc., on fingernails), realizing she is pregnant and finally learning to stand up for herself. Dotty’s journey “Out of Sterno” is an hour and a half (plus intermission) of solid fun underscored by a solid sprinkling of universal truths and a lot of recognizable (although exaggerated) situations. The credit goes to designer David Chudzinski for his wonderfully skewed settings; to lighting designer Kyle Techentin for his equally imaginative effects; to director Tami Ramaker for the requisite fast pace; and most of all to the excellent quintet of actors who make up the cast of 11 characters.
Kirstin Apker portrays three men while Kyle Curtis delivers the personas of four women and one man. Each of these is definitely its own creation and is a credit to the actors who cross genders to deliver some genuine gems. Phil Kwiecinski’s Hamel is a smarmy blend of overweening male ego and ignorance from his slickly greased hair to his magenta shirt and leather pants. His dismissive treatment of the wife who adores him is, here, a laughing matter but one that is unfortunately too true to life. Nicole Brinkmann Reeves plays Zena, a self-professed “soul mate of Princess Di,” who gives a bad name to all East Coast women. She is obsessed with getting Hamel for a husband, a target which ultimately is bad for her and good for Dotty. She defends her narcissistic shell with sarcasm that hides a raft of insecurities. So easily does Lisa Blodgett become the dangerously naive Dotty, it’s difficult to believe that “Out of Sterno” is her first comedy. She delivers a large majority of the dialogue (she talks to herself, to the audience and to the other characters) and displays a wonderful honesty that, when delivered with her wide-eyed naivete, makes even her most outrageous statements acceptable. She is charming and funny and absolutely adorable. Also ultimately triumphant!
“OUT OF STERNO” plays at 8 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday in the Warner Studio Theatre, 403 N. Main St., South Bend. Tickets: 234-1112 between noon and 6 p.m. weekdays or call www.sbct.org.