Reviewed by Judy Richter
It's not widely known in the United States that Ireland remained neutral during World War II. One of the reasons was its long history of friction with England. That friction is seen in Irish playwright Frank McGuinness' "Dolly West's Kitchen," making its American premiere at TheatreWorks.
As the title implies, the action is focused on the kitchen in the West family home in Buncrana, County Donegal, Ireland, near the border with Derry, Northern Ireland, starting in 1943. The home is owned by the family matriarch, Rima (Charlotte Cornwell), and shared by her three adult children: Dolly West (Stacy Ross), Justin West (Jeremy Bobb) and Esther Horgan (Lanie MacEwan), who is married to Ned Horgan (Simon Vance). The two men are in the Irish army. Dolly, assisted by the family's live-in maid, Anna (Desirą©e Matthews), does the cooking. She had her own restaurant in Italy for a while years but returned home because of what was happening under Mussolini.
The arrival of three guests starts the conflicts. Alec Redding (Mark Phillips) is in the British army and has been romantically involved with Dolly. Marco Delavicario (Christian Conn) and Jamie O'Brien (Craig W. Marker) are cousins and American soldiers whom Rima met at the village pub and invited to join them. Justin is almost virulently anti-British, so he is barely civil to Alec and the two Americans. However, his demeanor becomes much more positive and cheerful after he connects with the very gay Marco. Meantime, both Esther and Anna are attracted to Jamie, and Dolly is still interested in Alec.
The production is well directed by Robert Kelley and well acted by the cast, especially Cornwell and Ross, whose characters are the most centered and self-aware. Production values also are high with Andrea Bechert's set with its kitchen and gardens, Fumiko Bielefeldt's '40s costumes, Pamila Gray's lighting and Cliff Caruthers' sound. However, the accents can be a bit hard to understand at times. Moreover, the play has weaknesses. For example, it's improbable that Marco would be so out-and-out gay, especially in the army. And some characters seem to change directions with little preparation, as Justin does when he immediately responds to Marco's advances. And when Marco and Alec return from the war, they're both traumatized by their experiences, but they seem to recover in mere moments. Finally, there's quite a bit of melodrama and predictability.
Nevertheless, the production is strong enough to sustain interest.