‘Out of Sterno’ warms Gloucester Stage


Gloucester Stage‘s current production, Out of Sterno, is unlike any comedy you’ve seen, and one that you’re almost guaranteed to like.

sterno_dotty-hamelWhile teetering on the edge of theater of the absurd, Deborah Zoe Laufer’s play hangs on to just enough realism to make the audience believe in and care about its central character, Dotty, who lives up to the dictionary definition of her name as “amiably eccentric.”

Dotty (played by a brilliant Amanda Collins) lives happily in a cluttered, junk-strewn apartment in the city of Sterno with her husband, the dangerously sexy bad boy, Hamel (Noah Tuleja). For the seven years of their marriage, Hamel has forbidden Dotty to leave the apartment or to speak to anyone, even her family.

Still, the naïve and trusting Dottie is happy to live in her own fairy tale existence within the tiny apartment waiting for Hamel to come home from his job at the gas station so she can wait hand and foot on the man she loves.

Dotty’s cheery innocence makes her hard not to like, even as she punctuates her speech with euphemistic exclamations like “Jeepers!” “Holy Moley!” “Good Golly!” and “Geez Louise!”

When Dotty receives a phone call from a mysterious woman leaving a message for Hamel, she ventures out into the world and encounters a series of odd characters along her quest to discover what it means to be a real woman.

sterno_zenasA case of mistaken identity leads to her working at Zena’s Beauty Emporium. Just as Hamel is a caricature of the cave man husband, Zena (Jennifer Ellis) is a parody of the gum-snapping floozy cosmetologist, all boobs and butt and heavy makeup wrapped in a too-tight dress.

Zena has little patience for her new charge, the plain and “irritatingly cheerful” Dotty. Zena sends Dotty home with a copy of “Beautiful or Bust” magazine to help her learn how a real woman should look and act.

Dotty keeps her new employment and life outside the home a secret from her husband, who seems to be having a lot of evening “business meetings” of late.

Along her bus commute to and from Zena’s, Dotty encounters a number of strange characters, all played (mostly in drag) by Richard Snee, husband of director Paula Plum.

sterno_busThere’s the angry, radical feminist who lectures Dotty and forces her to accept a copy of the magazine Hear Me Roar.

Then there the pregnant southern woman who notices that Dotty also appears to be sporting a baby bump. She gives Dotty her copy of Southern Nursing Mommy, prompting the overwhelmed Dotty to cry out, “I have so much to read!”

Director Paula Plum’s casting is could hardly be better. Collins is so natural as Dotty that it’s easy to forget you’re watching a performance by an actress.

Jennifer Ellis manages to steal several scenes as the man-crazy home-wrecker beautician Zena. She also gets to utter some of the play’s funnier lines like, “Sexual gratification is one of our basic human rights as American citizens.”

And Richard Snee plays a host of mostly female characters with just the right blend of irony and aplomb.

It’s fun to root for the endearing Dotty as she is bombarded with conflicting messages advising her on how to be a woman. But in the end, it will be up to her alone to decide who the new person growing inside of her will be.

Out of Sterno runs through July 18 at Gloucester Stage, 267 East Main Street, Gloucester, MA. Performances are Wednesday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. Purchase tickets online or phone 978-281-4433.

[Out of Sterno, by Deborah Zoe Laufer. Directed by Paula Plum. Set Design, Jon Savage. Costume Design, Elisabetta Polito. Lighting Design, Russ Swift. Sound Design, David Wilson. Stage Manager, Meg Tracy Leddy.]

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