Out of Sterno

by Deborah Zoe Laufer
directed by Casey Stangl
originally produced at Portland Stage Company, Portland, ME.
March 3,2009 through March 22, 2009

About the Premiere Production:

Out of Sterno, by Deborah Zoe Laufer, is a coming-of-age play that invites us into the wild and zany world of a young woman named Dotty. Dotty’s life in Sterno with her husband Hamel is absolutely perfect! True, in their seven years of marriage Hamel has forbidden her to leave their tiny apartment or speak to anyone, but Dotty is still happy as can be with her art projects and a husband who always comes home on time. Dotty’s predictable and cartoon-like world begins to crumble, however, when a phone call from a mysterious woman makes her question everything she has come to take for granted. She ventures out into the vast city of Sterno for the first time to discover what it is to be a "real" woman, meeting a variety of extreme characters along the way. Surrounded by conflicting opinions, Dotty is forced to figure out on her own what she believes to be true.

Laufer uses her plays to, in her own words, “Dive in and get dirty in the confusion. I never solve any problems. I usually wind up with more questions and uncertainty than I started with…” Out of Sterno is a perfect example of this style. It depicts a woman who is lost in the midst of a sea of confusion. Dotty faces many questions about life and the world around her, and not everything gets tied up with a neat and tidy answer. Yet the choice to investigate these un-tidy problems is precisely the goal.

Out of Sterno asks some big questions: What is a real woman? What is a real man? What is beauty? While looking for the answers, the audience is drawn in not only by sympathy for the innocent and quirky heroine, but by the play’s outrageously funny dialogue. In one moment the audience is crying with Dotty as she recognizes the harsh realities of the outside world, and in the next rolling with laughter as another object drops from the ceiling. With such a see-saw of emotions and so much left up in the air, the play leaves the doors to conversation, and to laughter, wide open.

Artistic Statement

Out of Sterno is a subversively feminist comedy that explores the multiple ways in which women are portrayed in contemporary society. Dotty, sheltered to an extreme degree by her husband Hamel, lives in almost total ignorance of the outside world. But is her seemingly perfect life really as perfect as she believes? When she begins to be introduced to the perceptions of women in the outside world, what does she learn? What does it mean to be a woman? An independent woman? To be a man? To love? To be in a relationship? Out of Sterno examines all of these questions and more, as it takes a sly look at how and for whom we create our own self-images. Although the play is in many ways an uproarious comedy, it also packs a message, ultimately demonstrating that what other people think really doesn’t matter; it’s how you feel about yourself that truly counts. Out of Sterno is an important addition to the American repertoire. It is bitingly funny and it superbly showcases a vibrant theatrical voice.

Director: Casey Stangl
Set Design:Anita Stewart
Lighting Design:Bryon Winn
Sound Design:Stephen Swift
Costume Design:Chris Rumery
Stage Manager: Myles C. Hatch
Cast: Zena: Patricia Buckley
Hamel:Torsten Hillhouse
Dotty: Janice O’Rourke
Dan: Phillip Taratula

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