The lights go up on a traditional proscenium stage, and Dreary, Dearie, a one-woman show from Caitlyn Waltermire, gets off to a rocky start.
Adelaide is trying to tell us a story about a childhood trauma — “My earliest memory is making peace with death from inside a pile of dirt” — but she stumbles, corrects a word or two. Eventually she moves on to describe a man she met at a diner, but it’s not a terribly engaging piece of theater. “I know, this is all over the place,” she admits.
Luckily, Adelaide has help. Her husband Tom leaps from his seat and onto the stage. It turns out this was only a final run-through before the actual performance. He begins making changes to the show. To be honest, it doesn’t seem as though Adelaide exactly wants his help, that she would in fact prefer to tell her own story in her own way, but that might just be opening-night jitters.
What unravels from here is a time- and space-traveling story of domestic violence, in which versions of Adelaide (Haylie Renée) and of Tom (Samuel Lockridge) play out strange and yet too familiar scenes of abuse. With each quick lighting change and upbeat bleat of the piano, we are whisked away to meet Blitz-era Adelaide in her London basement as she braces for the bombs that Tom keeps dropping, or to encounter Tom as a hunter bragging about his prized taxidermied deer (who else but Adelaide?).
Lexington playwright Waltermire’s twisting play leaves no questions about who the swaggering villain is in this story, going so far as to have Tom boast to Adelaide, “I am a reflection of God, and you are a reflection of me.” However, Dreary, Dearie ends with a bit of a shrug, as if to suggest, “This is just how things are.” Adelaide’s story is tragic, but what can we learn from it?
For that lesson, we can perhaps look to a minor third character, John, a trash collector making his rounds through the theater (Gregory Hancock). Early in the play, he pauses to watch a bit of the rehearsal. At the end we find him still sitting in the house, having witnessed Tom’s physical violence toward Adelaide and having done nothing to intervene.
“Well,” John finally says as he departs, “a couple of actors. How ‘bout that.” He returns to his work, simply a bystander, just like us.
The 17th annual all-digital Cincinnati Fringe Festival runs through June 13. Get tickets and show info at cincyfringe.com.