At Boston Summer Theatre through Aug. 16

If you want to see what captivated New Yorkers back in the early 1920's, go to Dulcy, which the Boston Summer Theatre has dusted off for the week. It strikes us as a period piece today, but George S. Kaufman and Marc Connelly wrote it as a contemporary satire on the middle-class West-chester County set of 1921.

With Lynn Fontaine in the title role, the play ran on Broadway for months, and "Dulcy" became a household word. But tastes and standards change, and the play today is little more than a feather-weight farce and a historical curiosity.

The playwrights did not create the character of Dulcy. Bearing a name taken from Don Quixote, Dulcy was the brainchild of the columnist F.P.A. (Franklin P. Adams) and first came to life on the editorial pages of the New York Tribune. The dramatists then simply took Dulcy and fashioned a play around her.

Dulcinea Smith is a witless, bromidic, meddlesome but well-meaning woman with a mania for engineering other people's lives. She gives a weekend house-party, and manages to have a finger in every pie and a foot in every mouth. She tries to fix her husband's business deals and do a little matchmaking on the side. She spouts cliches and misquotations with amazing volubility. It is she who arranges a bridge game before supper because "it would be sort of soothing," and then proceeds to ask whether hearts are higher than spades and whether she "should discard from strength or weakness." As you can see, she does everything from weakness; and one wonders how she ever managed to get Gordon Smith to the altar and keep him from engaging a divorce lawyer.

Besides her long-suffering husband (Gene Lyons), Dulcy's circle includes her bemused brother-in-law (Perry Fiske); a humorless, successful businessman (Lawrence Fletcher) with a flighty, amateur-writing wife (Gloria Barret), love-smitten daughter (Betty Rollin), and silly advertising agent (Brooks Rogers); an overdrawn temperamental Hollywoodite (Leo Bloom), who insists on being called a "scenarist" rather than a "scenario writer"; a piano-playing gentleman with hallucinosis (Justice Watson); a celebrated attorney (Stanford McAuley); and an ex-larcenous butler (Howard Mann).


The current Dulcy is Dody Goodman, a refugee from the Jack Paar TV show, whatever that is. She has one of the most unpleasant and whiny voices I've ever heard on the stage; but that is probably an advantage for this role. Heaven help her if she ever tries to play another type of woman, though! Her best moments are silent ones, all the same, when she keeps rearranging the plants and flowers with an utterly unaesthetic eye, and when she does a ludicrous dance to Chopin's Prelude No. 4.

All the performers (including a French poodle) go through their paces with well-drilled precision. Only Gene Lyons gives a natural, restrained performance; the others are considerably exaggerated. The general consistency of approach in the acting, though, leads me to suspect that this production is almost 100-per cent director Robert Finkel's show, down to the last, over-rehearsed twitch or glance.

As the ancient poet Horace said, "Dulcy est desipere in loco."

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