There's a lot of killing time in "Killing Dante," the comedy with which Prince William Little Theatre is winding down its season. There are also some healthy laughs, but the biggest laughter is generated by mugging from cast members rather than from the tired dialogue from playwrights Shannon Michal Dow and Jan Henson Dow.
Director E. Scott Olson and Prince William Little Theatre deserve much credit for trying something new. "Killing Dante" is a recent play, relatively untested. It's a gamble for a theater company, a challenge to build an audience with an unfamiliar title, especially one by playwrights no one knows outside their niche in the Connecticut-New York theater community.
The Dows have written a play that is refreshing and innovative, for 1955. Today, the formula seems trite, the characters recycled and the punch lines predictable.
In the tradition of such gentle comic classics as "Harvey" and "The Curious Savage," "Killing Dante" is the tale of an eccentric, free-spirited man whose family thinks should be "saved," regardless of whether he needs it. The family plans to dilute his eccentricity and make him conform to society through the obligatory horrible scientific experiment that will wash away all the things that make him so agreeable in the first place.
Except for modern coarse language and quite a few sexual double-entendres, the play seems musty and decades old, right down to the stereotypically swishy art dealer (Ken Clayton).
Self-styled "Wolf of Wall Street" tycoon Roger Cabot (Ted Ballard) has decided to change his life and live as a bohemian artist in a Manhattan loft. His plain, weak-willed daughter, Rebecca (Meredith Ford), and her grasping fiance Richard (Greg Powell), who had been Cabot's business protege, think he has lost his mind. Evidence of this includes his newly expressed ability to "see" sounds, an actual condition that the playwrights quickly overuse.
So the schemers bring in a neurosurgeon, Dr. Jason Stewart (James Senevitis), to aim a few laser beams at the happy curmudgeon's head and turn Cabot back into the mean but money-generating guy he once was, thus saving him from himself and his fortune for themselves. That's Richard's plan, anyway; Rebecca is just going along.
Throw in Abigail (Denise Marois), a lovelorn writer who is chronicling the surgeon's every move for "his" new book that she'll ghostwrite, and Avis (Aimee Meher-Homji), an obnoxious lawyer, and you have enough people to pair everybody up by the end of the play, couplings that can easily be predicted before intermission. The play rolls along, ratcheting up the comedy until it reaches full-blown farce level in Act Two.
Olson is an innovative director, but he is saddled with an uneven script and an unevenly talented cast. Ballard is fine as Roger, low-keyed and warm. But Powell, as Richard, seems to be in a different play, his energy level, vocal volume and physical movement all twice that of everyone else's. It's not bad by itself; it's just jarring when everyone else is so quiet.
Marois nicely creates a three-dimensional character as the lonely, sexually frustrated writer. Ford, as the daughter, recites many of her lines as if she were reading to second-graders. Meher-Homji remains sultry and intriguing, despite her character's supposedly brittle personality. Then there is Clayton, who cannot loosen up enough to convincingly play the effeminate art dealer.
The slapstick works, thanks to Olson's sense of timing, but even he cannot salvage this lame play. "Killing Dante" is DOA.
"Killing Dante" will be performed by Prince William Little Theatre at 8 p.m. tomorrow and Saturday at George C. Round Elementary School, 10100 Hastings Dr., Manassas. For tickets or information, call 703-330-7796 or visit www.pwlt.org.