Detachments, Center Theater Ensemble. While Ellen, a comedic actress, is out of town at a Lucille Ball convention, an ophthalmologist informs her that her retina is detached. “Does this mean I’m not going to do the LucyFest?” she asks. Back home, a second eye doctor confirms the diagnosis while his string of wacky international internists concurs–in unison. Later Ellen confesses to girlfriend Zoe–a character as plucky and vapid as Ethel Mertz–just how painful it can be to watch a friend die. Only the laugh track and detergent commercials are missing.

Colleen Dodson is an adept wordsmith (one character confesses that she and her boyfriend “bring out the deadness in each other”) but a cowardly playwright. In Detachments she wants to dramatize the story of a woman facing parallel crises: the dissolution of her eyesight and of her eight-year relationship. But rather than write a play–that is, allow Ellen to confront choices and take action–Dodson constructs elaborate theatrical diversions: mystical visions of a clairvoyant usher/consultant, a doctor’s office transformed into a game show. Spinning potential tragedy into a tangled confection, Dodson transforms what could have been a gutsy drama about the consequences of confusing truth with fabrication into a series of kooky escapades. Her aim is to entertain at any price, regardless of the damage done by sitcom digressions.

Center Theater’s solidly acted, skillfully directed, and swiftly paced production would be a delight if it weren’t such a waste.

–Justin Hayford