Dorothy L.–A Dramatic Portrait of Dorothy L. Sayers, Playwrights’ Center, at Loyola University Mertz Hall. Even those familiar with British novelist Dorothy L. Sayers only through the PBS mystery series will hardly be surprised by the portrait Catherine Kenney paints of her in act one of this one-woman drama. Prim and witty, this vicar’s daughter, scholar, and polite tea drinker with just a touch of the imp about her displays exactly the sort of character you’d expect of the author who claimed that mysteries were merely novels of manners with an occasional murder tossed in.

But in act two the proper English lady reveals the secrets she sought to keep out of the hands of the press and potential biographers. She had a reputation as a cold and prudish wag, but she was a deeply passionate woman, made miserable by the unrequited loves of her life and racked with guilt for having borne a child out of wedlock, a child whose existence she kept a secret from everyone, including her parents.

Kenney explores the contrast between Sayers’s public and private images in a show that’s quite droll, exceedingly well researched, and liberally sprinkled with Sayersisms. And though Molly Glynn Hammond is much too young to play Sayers–presented here on the night before she died, at age 64–she makes a clever and amiable afternoon tea companion. But the play is somewhat too arcane and concerned with minutiae to hold one’s interest too long. What lay behind the author’s persona may have been tragic, but Kenney hasn’t been able to turn it into great drama. –Adam Langer