Books have always been an escape to people of all ages. A way to get away from the daily monotony that sometimes pushes us to a breaking point, all because they transport us. If you find the right book, the right story, the right time, a book can take you somewhere you never imagined you could go – and that’s what happens for the characters in the play, Dorothy’s Dictionary, by E.M. Lewis.
The play starts at the technical end, with an older and mature Zan(Elijah Moseley) telling us when the story starts, so there is no real “spoiler”, but this is a memory play about the relationship between a teenager, Zan, and an ailing librarian, Dorothy(Karen Stephens). Zan has been forced to read to her as a form of community service, and although it isn’t his intention, a relationship takes shape. This story is about how their unlikely friendship shifted the trajectory of Zan’s life, while giving a spark of light in Dorothy’s despite her sickness.
When they first meet, Zan is your typical angsty teen, hoodie and all, not wanting to be there, hoping and willing to only do the bare minimum – and as the play progresses, as he talks to and gets to know Dorothy, his attitude changes. Dorothy teaches him in a way that no one has ever tried before, with patience and kindness.
Moseley gives a splendid performance as the troubled teen, while at times it may feel a little on the nose, he is able to navigate the world with ease, making sure to clearly differentiate between the past and the present.
Stephens, a veteran South Florida actress, does not disappoint. The play doesn’t always give her the time to build that the character deserves, but there is a moment, towards the end, when she looks at the audience, and without a single word, tells you everything that Dorothy is feeling. It is hard to look away as Stephens gives what could easily be a one-dimensional character, a fully realized life. Dorothy is brimming with curiosity and hope, always looking on the bright side so as to not bring Zan down, instead she inspires him to reach for more, to want more.
Karen Stephens & Elijah Moseley
That’s what this play is about, hope. The hope of more, no matter your past, there is always hope for more. While Zan never expected that in his life, Dorothy shows him how it is possible, with friendship, guidance, and books.
With this World Premiere having been directed by Matt Stabile, his love for the piece shines through the delicate nature of the space. The handling of a memory play can be difficult, because how do you convey the unrealistic nature of a realistic thing? Designed by Michael McClain, the route they chose was, simplicity. Stabile and his team use neutral tones to color the set, which gives the audience a surreal kind of feeling to the point that even the books that litter the space are all blank, which makes sense because in a memory how the things that might be remembered the most are the titles, not the covers themselves.
Simplicity works, it doesn’t distract and in fact it puts all the focus on the characters, and the text.
Made up of twelve parts, the play moves from scene to scene with a light piano accompaniment taking us through each transition, and while there are a few times where the scenes feel too short for that kind of transition, the tone of this hopeful piece does not falter.
E.M. Lewis gives us a play with strong themes and ideas, the actors help give those aspects legs to walk on, and at the end of the day, this is the kind of play that we need more of in the world. Now as a World Premiere, the play still has room to grow. The dialogue at times has a campy feel to it, that doesn’t necessarily detract from the piece, but can be looked at as its life continues to move forward.
If it hasn’t been mentioned before, then let it be said here; a two-hander of a play is not easy. E.M. Lewis succeeds in creating a story that doesn’t need more than two people, but hopefully down the line, the world can expand beyond its World Premiere, because the only thing that felt missing, was that there could have been more so that we do not rush this beautiful little journey between these two people.
Karen Stephens & Elijah Moseley