Review: 'Mrs. California' makes fluffy work of 1950s homemaker competition

Rover Dramawerks production falls flat between lighthearted stretches


By LAWSON TAITTE / The Dallas Morning News

Mrs. California is one of those light comedies nobody writes anymore. It's not particularly well constructed – and the Rover Dramawerks production that opened at the Trinity River Arts Center on Thursday doesn't mask its deficiencies. For those content with mild amusement, though, it will serve.

Doris Baizley's play, set in 1955, centers on a competition – not quite a beauty contest – to name California's best homemaker. Babs (Jan T. Slade) has encouraged her best friend, Dot (Jennifer Hutchinson), to enter. Dot has reached the statewide finals. Now she has a new sponsor, Dudley (Matthew J. Edwards), who competes with Babs to prep Dot and give her advice.

Mrs. California is strongest in its incidental parodies of 1950s conventions. The contest's crass commercialism makes an easy target, but the bull's-eyes are no less funny for that. The other three contestants, played for maximum contrast by Rachel Schnitzius, Laura Jennings, and Janet Behning, embody humorous stereotypes.

On the thematic level, you spot right off where the play is going. In its first speech, Dot is practicing her response to a question she anticipates – what was your proudest moment? She remembers her service in the WAVES more than a decade before – a night in which she helped save a naval convoy. Babs, too, had been a version of Rosie the Riveter. Obviously, Ms. Baizley is comparing their exciting lives during World War II to the boredom of being housewives in the 1950s.

The rift between Dot and Babs that Dudley provokes, as well as its resolution toward the end, seem way too pat. Ms. Hutchinson and Ms. Slade do their best to make it all plausible. Sometimes director Carol M. Rice lets the show's pace flag. Especially between scenes, the dead air lets the tires go flat.

Ms. Rice and her husband, Jason, were among the founders of Bucket Productions before moving to Utah. Mrs. California is her new company's second show since their return. It feels much more confident than Rover Dramawerks' first outing, Edward Albee's Everything in the Garden. Of course, a fluttery comedy is easier to handle than Mr. Albee at his most perplexing.

Mrs. California, presented by Rover Dramawerks at the Trinity River Arts Center, 2600 Stemmons, Suite 180, Thursdays through Saturdays through Oct. 20. Tickets $10 to $14. Call 214-796-9246.

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