Reveille Favored: With Wake Up, Cameron Dobbs, newcomer Stephen Peirick hits the ground running

Mar 1, 2012 at 4:00 am
Sarajane Alverson and John Foughty in Wake Up, Cameron Dobbs.
Sarajane Alverson and John Foughty in Wake Up, Cameron Dobbs. John Lamb
Cameron Dobbs is having one of the worst 30th birthdays of all time. What he expected to be a quiet dinner with his older brother and sister-in-law has turned into a bloody nightmare involving a badly contused face (his), his overweening mother and a blind date with a woman who's so far out of his league that they're not even playing the same sport. Factor in a meal that would kill him if he ate it and Cameron's constant reassurances to everyone involved that everything is fine, and you have the makings of a classic farce.

Yet playwright Stephen Peirick is not satisfied with mere farce; what he's aiming at is an actual hero's journey, as nerdy, nebbishy, always agreeable Cameron seeks to re-create himself as more of a man and less a man-child, emerging from the wreckage of his birthday as an actual adult.

Wake Up, Cameron Dobbs has a great deal going for it. Peirick's dialogue is sharp, the relationships between characters are well defined and believable, the cast is uniformly strong and Robert Ashton, who directs this West End Players Guild production, makes the most of his ensemble's easy chemistry.

Take the relationship between still-newlyweds, Owen Dobbs (Eric Dean White) and Abby Dobbs (Colleen Backer). Owen is resolutely uninterested in his younger brother's problems, unless he can mine some schadenfreude from them. He's just as detached from conversation with his wife, and yet Abby is just as removed from any deeper understanding of Cameron as he is. She sees him as a project to fix, not a person with his own wants and desires, although her innate sweetness allows her to stick up for him; she tells her friend Natalie (Sarajane Alverson) that Cameron "is hot — on the inside." Abby and Owen are perfect for each other, quite comfortable in the shallower depths of connectivity — and still Backer and White make these two not just likable but entertaining in their own right.

Cameron (John Foughty) is similarly nuanced. He's a schlub, sure, but his biggest problem is his willingness to accommodate everyone at the expense of himself. When the aforementioned Natalie, his blind date, complains to Abby and Owen about Cameron's looks and personality, he offers to leave the room to spare her the embarrassment of this social faux pas. Natalie doesn't give a rat's ass about such niceties; she simply cannot abide Cameron's seemingly limitless capacity for wussiness — the polar opposite of her own modus vivendi. So offended is she by this crime against human nature that she resolves to show Cam the error of his ways, figuring that one night of carousing à la Nat ought to do the trick. Improbable as it may seem, the plan succeeds, as Natalie drags Cameron away from his birthday party and out of the wreckage of his own life.

Peirick has scripted the oil-and-water scenario that ensues as textbook rom-com — but he takes care to steer clear of the typical clichés of the genre. Natalie is loud, brash and fixated on fun. Cameron is meek, wishy-washy and a drone of the first water. Together they alchemize into utter mayhem, tearing through the evening in a ragged swath that might be the partying equivalent of a tornado through Joplin.

Remarkably, Wake Up is Stephen Peirick's first full-length play. His ear for dialogue and his eye for the funny way out of a scene speak very well for his future endeavors. For now this is all we have from him, though, so go see it.