'Diva Royale' review: Jeff Daniels comedy a breezy if underwhelming excursion
Courtesy of The Purple Rose
Running 80-minutes without intermission, Jeff Daniels’ buzzy comedy “Diva Royale,” which was brought back by popular demand and then extended, never drags. But then again, some of the substance and the way characters are prodded around and developed left me wondering if the script could’ve used a few touch-ups.
It follows a trio of suburban-esq housewives from Middletown, Mich: Helen Millerbee (Caitlin Cavannaugh), Mary Catherine Carlton (Kristin Shields), and Lynnette Taylor-Tyler (Kate Thomsen) who all bond over their unwavering love of both Céline Dion and the movie “Titanic,” which, of course, features the singer’s transcendent hit “My Heart Will Go On.” In other words, think of them as middle-aged Swifties.
They each have their own flaws and quirky characteristics, setting the stage for all sorts of forced slapstick and hijinks that’s hit or miss. Helen, for example, has a vivid monologue recollecting an intense sexual encounter with her husband (where she barely escaped with her life); Mary fantasizes about Jack Dawson whisking her away; and Lynnette has a weird condition where she convulses and can’t speak in complete sentences.
With a better script, these combined elements may have added up to a satisfying journey, but alas the women’s quest to the Big Apple, to see a one-night only Céline Dion performance, left me wanting more. You never get a sense of the camaraderie among the trio considering the show is cruising at a breakneck pace and thus “Diva Royale” ends up feeling like scattershot vignettes rather than a cohesive story.
For the second half of the show, the “Divas” are separated in New York City (after discovering the Céline Dion show was actually a drag performance) and thrown into chaos involving strange day-dreaming subplots, man boobs, and a mugger who has taken Lynnette’s phone and threatened to upload dirty videos to the internet (how, in the modern digital age, he was able to unlock her phone for this objective is a mystery).
As a unit, these three leading ladies are savvy, funny, and up for the physicality the show often demands. Evident by a climatic showdown with the robber that makes great use of the Purple Rose’s intimate stage despite it featuring a groan-inducing fart gag. The scenic work by Brian D. Dambacher is very minimal and the actors pantomime props (something I’ve always been on the record about loathing).
The scaled down approach does yield one welcome addition: Conor Allston’s “Generic Man” performance wherein he embodies everything from a sleazy cab driver, German drag queen, to the street mugger looking to make a quick buck. It’s ironic that in a show that revolves around women, it would be this character who steals the show and that’s because he doesn’t have to adhere to an inconsistent plot. He can just be on his own wavelength the entire time.
You can see why a show like “Diva Royale” has enjoyed the run it has: the moms are relatable, Céline Dion is obviously a beloved icon, and the jokes, as forced and contrived as they sometimes are, do garner chuckles (if I had a dime for every time the production needle dropped “My Heart Will Go On,” I could retire). This isn’t a bad show nor is it striving for any major awards or looking to make the leap to Broadway. It merely exists to put butts in seats and sometimes that’s all anyone asks for. On the flip side, the potential of “Diva Royale” is striking-I would’ve loved to understand these characters as humans aside from their weird obsessions-and it registers, at least for me, as a missed opportunity for something better than average.
DIVA ROYALE is now playing at the Purple Rose through March 2nd. Tickets can be purchased at purplerosetheatre.org