Dear Delinquent

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There is a man who is engaged, but he begins to fall for another woman. Fortunately, his fiancee is loathsome, making his decision easier, though the audience is left wondering why it takes the entire play to decide it, and why he was ever engaged to the rotten woman in the first place.

This plot should sound familiar not just to regular theatergoers, but even to casual, occasional theatergoers. Hale Center Theater Orem makes use of it often — at least six times in the past five years, by my count — and “Dear Delinquent,” directed by Maureen Eastwood, is the latest and least of them.

In this slight, forgettable comedy by Jack Popplewell — the program omits his name, but it’s Jack Popplewell — David Warren (Matt Clayton) is the engaged man, an English fellow, living off his uncle’s (Mark Shipley) money and his mother’s (Arlene McGregor) reputation. He himself does nothing.

He is engaged to Helen Chandler (Marydee Potter), who is rich and haughty and has jet-black hair. The woman he might fall in love with instead is Penelope Shawn (Amy Laurel Cook), whom he catches in his house late one night due to her being the world’s clumsiest burglar.

Only he does not immediately fall in love with Penelope. As far as I can tell from watching the play, he NEVER falls in love with her, though this doesn’t stop him from winding up with her. It is a case of the characters being played (and written, I think) opposite from how they should be for it to make sense: Helen, who is supposed to be awful, seems nice enough, if occasionally given to hysterics; Penelope, whom we’re supposed to root for, is calculating and devious and unlikable. I hoped David would marry neither woman.

Penelope comes from a long, proud line of burglars, led by her Irish father (Kent Flowers; double-cast with Mark Pulham). This is the thing the play finds most amusing about itself, that people could find honor in being thieves, but it doesn’t register. It reminded me of the last straight play performed on this stage, “Arsenic and Old Lace,” where the juxtaposition of sweet old ladies who poison men and bury them in the basement is jarring enough to be funny. Here, the juxtaposition is simply that people who have enough money already are working as burglars. Cute, I guess, but not laugh-out-loud funny, and certainly not a clever enough concept to hang the entire play on.

Matt Clayton has the daunting task of making this stuff funny, and he performs devotedly. His David is boyishly glum and put-upon, forced into several unwelcome situations and reacting with increasing hopelessness.

Also notable are Jake Suazo (double-cast with Matthieu C. Kohl), who is droll as the police detective investigating the larcenous Shawn family; and Roger Dunn as David’s long-suffering butler.

The British accents range from acceptable to perfectly awful. MaryAnn Hill’s costumes are good for the period.

Should you go? It is so much like so many other old comedies performed here that there’s little point in seeing this one.

I'm pretty sure omitting the playwright's name in the program violates every royalties law there is. Of course, if you're Jack Popplewell, you're 1) dead, and 2) probably ashamed of this script anyway.

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