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Dorothy & Otto

Scripter-helmer Sharon L. Graine has crafted a woefully undernourished chronicle of the tempestuous, ultimately tragic love affair between Austrian-born film director-producer Otto Preminger (1906-86) and African-American actress-singer Dorothy Dandridge (1922-65).

Scripter-helmer Sharon L. Graine has crafted a woefully undernourished chronicle of the tempestuous, ultimately tragic love affair between Austrian-born film director-producer Otto Preminger (1906-86) and African-American actress-singer Dorothy Dandridge (1922-65). Graine endeavors to underscore the emotional gulf separating these two artists by dividing the KSLG Playhouse stage into two settings, Otto’s no-nonsense office and Dorothy’s comfy living room. The action moves limply back and forth between the two in a series of short, ineffectual scenes that fail to bring to life this star-crossed love affair.

The dramatic throughline follows the duo’s relationship from the casting of Dandridge (Shelli Boone) by Preminger (Patrick Barnett) in the 1954 all-black film adaptation of Bizet’s opera “Carmen” through the tension-filled filming of 1959’s “Porgy and Bess.” “Carmen Jones” made Dandridge a star; “Porgy and Bess” was her last significant work before she died of an accidental drug overdose in 1965.

The early scenes between Barnett’s Preminger and Boone’s Dandridge are more informative than dramatic, adequately communicating the director’s original reluctance to cast a woman he considered too sweet and innocent to play the earthy Carmen.

It is well chronicled that an infuriated Dandridge bought a wig, a tight skirt and a low-cut blouse before storming into Preminger’s office to demand an audition for Carmen. Incomprehensibly, this potentially rich bit of business is never enacted. Instead, Dandridge is shown sitting sedately on her couch as she describes her confrontation with Preminger in a phone conversation.

Graine makes sure all the facts behind the subsequent relationship of Preminger and Dandridge are revealed by the overuse of two announcers (Clint Arnold, Carl-Eric Benzinger) and an abundance of video projections.

To move the plot along, Graine always finds a reason to plop Dandridge down on her couch so she can use her phone as a weapon of mass exposition.

Boone (who alternates in the role with singer-actress Suzanne Nichols) offers a comely portrayal of Dandridge, realistically communicating thesp’s longing to be a permanent part of Preminger’s life. She is less effective in her brief attempt to re-create Dandridge’s nightclub act, offering a tentative rendition of ballad “Somebody.” It’s disconcerting to watch her lip sync out of context to the scores of “Carmen Jones” and “Porgy and Bess,” as it has no place in the storyline.

Barnett, who is much too young to communicate the age difference and towering control Preminger had over Dandridge, makes no attempt to duplicate the colorful director’s signature Austrian accent. His supposed love scenes with Boone’s Dandridge are devoid of passion. Preminger was called “Otto the Terrible” by his cronies, but Barnett’s portrayal is underwhelming and listless.

Dorothy & Otto

Dorothy & Otto

KSLG Playhouse & Harry Mastrogeorge Theater in the Brewery Art Colony; 60 seats; $25 top

  • Production: A KSLG Playhouse Theater Players presentation of a play in one act by Sharon L. Graine. Directed by Graine.
  • Crew: Sets, Graine; lights, Clint Arnold; musical direction, Ben DiTosti. Opened, reviewed Aug. 6, 2005. Runs through Sept. 10. Running time: 1 HOUR, 15 MIN.
  • Cast: Dorothy Dandridge - Shelli Boone Otto Preminger - Aaron Miller