Don't Talk to the Actors marks the third time playwright Tom Dudzick visits Montgomery Theater's stage. This time, he's also in the wings, as the show's director. Following 2009's Over the Tavern- the company's all-time best-seller - and last season's Hail Mary!, both of which examined the lighter side of Catholicism, Don't Talk to the Actors is a strictly secular affair. However, if theater happens to be your religion, be aware, this backstage comedy depicts some desecration in the temple.
Dudzick hails from Buffalo, N.Y., as do most of his best-beloved characters. Here, they're first-time playwright Jerry Przpezniak (Joel Malazita), horn-rimmed and sweater-vested, with his cross-stitching, J.C. Penney-loving fiancee Arlene Wyniarski (Lauren Rooney), as ingenues abroad, leaving their upstate Eden to chase a dream of big-time success on Broadway. Lucky for Jerry, this dream is astonishingly easy to catch, with his play - a simple drama called Tuning Pianos, about a simple, loving couple who discuss pancakes and ant traps over breakfast - already financed, cast with a pair of has-been television stars, and in development.
There are more credulity-straining elements in the piece, such as Jerry's shock at discovering the terms of his contract (his first play gets a Broadway run, plus, he has no agent?), but perhaps equally lucky for Dudzick, this cast gives his script a better workout than it deserves.
Though Jerry's play lacks action on paper, set designer Kelly Leight-Bertucci's purposely drab, brick-walled rehearsal room becomes center stage for everyone's conflicting motives and tantrums. Paul Dake's leading man, Curt Logan, turns on the smarm throughout, oozing lines such as, "You want your instrument tuned?" at wide-eyed Arlene. Dudzick inexplicably directs Ellen Ratner's leading lady, Beatrice Pomeroy, as Rodney Dangerfield in a hair clip, arriving in a sweat-suited blur, honking her displeasure at Times Square's transformation: "Ya can't find a cop, ya can't find a hooka!" She's funny and charismatic, sure, but we never see why anyone would choose her for a role the director describes as "the closest thing to an angel on Earth."
Dudzick as a playwright likes to take the easy road. He fudges the facts, blunts potential edges. He's humorous without being witty, and his characters are exactly as they appear, from start to finish. As a director, he's ham-fisted, for all the same reasons. Still, there's plenty of space between Buffalo and the big time, and much like Jerry's producers, Souderton and Montgomery Theater certainly like what he offers: simple laughs.