Charles Green might as well have called his play at Theatre 40 "Much Ado About Wildroot, Tab Hunter and Bonanza." Instead he's called it "Shy of Dallas."
Its only bashfulness is its title.
Otherwise, "Shy," which boldly picks the time of the Kennedy visit to Dallas for its setting, never effects an organic connection with that circumstance. It makes a show of being about a group of school teachers in a fictitious suburb of Dallas called Dookeybird, their dreams as doomed as the American one about to be assassinated, but Green handles this group with such a leaden sense of humor and such clumsy dramaturgy that historical fact becomes a wholly incidental aside of the chronology.
Green's faculty room at Dookeybird Junior High is peopled with teachers who set the educational system back several decades. All they seem to do is sit there--discussing their love lives (or lack thereof), late nights in the village tow truck, failure to prepare for class and invidiousness of the football coach's availability. When \o7 do \f7 these women teach--and what?
Green's comedy--that's what he says it is--also reaches for issues far beyond its capacity. Chief among them is racial inequality in the South in the dawning of the age of Aquarius when Martin Luther King Jr. still lived. Teacher Connie Marie (played with perpetual anguish by Cheryl Francis Harrington) is presumably caught between the old ways and the new, but she's portrayed as such a doormat by nature that she's hardly the one to navigate the stormy seas ahead. This one's more likely to hide out in the hold until it's safe to come up.
The same applies to guitar-playing Leslie (Laura Drake) at the other end of the spectrum. She's a born activist who'll incite anyone to riot--the kind who wishes her skin were black so she could raise proper hell. Meanwhile, as a pre-nascent flower child who can neither sing nor compose, she'll write a song about it, thank you.
Is this funny? Not very. Nor is the constant bitching and backbiting that passes for dialogue, nor teacher Janine Bodine's True Confessions (honorably attempted by Penelope Windust), nor teacher Nadine's classic hangovers (Carol King gives it all she's got, but the character's a bust), her graphic description of encounters with the gas jockey, her bigotry and brazen advances to cowardly coach Clarence (a congealed Ben Wilson).
This is all done at a latrine level of humor (more infantile than offensive), with such occasional flavor inducers as "She's one pecan I can't seem to crack."
If this isn't dull enough, the characters are also quite unreal--mouthpieces for the playwright, a male who, here at least, is displaying a limited knowledge of women. Even the three-way showdown among Coach, Connie Marie and Nadine--designed as a high moment--simply doesn't hold up dramatically, even as it tries to square with the reality of place and time.
Viola Kates Stimpson struggles (and mostly loses) with a total stereotype as the aging sister of the good ol' boy principal. Scott Berridge's set is Early Ordinary, and director Devorah Cutler has not begun to compensate for the play's structural deficiencies. (Why do we need that extraneous glimpse of student Robey Stillman?)
Moreover, the playwright, who carefully dredges up '60s minutiae, blunders into such an '80s phrase as "Lighten up." Someone should have noticed, especially since the play was developed in Theatre 40's playwrights unit. They--and Green--are going to have to do better.
Performances at 241 Moreno Drive in Beverly Hills, on the high school campus, run today through Sunday at 8 p.m., with a Sunday matinee at 2; (213) 277-4221.