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THEATER REVIEW: World premiere of “Dooley” is a hit at Diversionary

Dr. Thomas Dooley packed a lot into his short life. The young, charming and handsome Navy doctor achieved worldwide fame as a humanitarian for his work with refugees in Southeast Asia, chronicled in his first book, “Deliver Us From Evil.”

He was already being groomed as the next U.S. Surgeon General when an inquiry into his sexual orientation forced his sudden resignation from the Navy in 1956. He stayed to work in refugee camps in Laos, along the way writing two more bestselling books.

He died at 34 of a malignant melanoma. President John F. Kennedy called him posthumously the inspiration for the founding of the Peace Corps.

Playwright William de Canzio doesn’t try to cover it all, but concentrates on his meteoric rise and quick fall from grace in the world premiere of “Dooley,” playing through May 29 at Diversionary Theatre.

Experienced opera director Cynthia Stokes marshals her nine-member forces superbly in this play that includes elements of Eastern mythology, dance and mime and even includes a fine original score by Blair Robert Nelson, nicely evoking the period. The east-west look is carried out by Matt Scott’s set, a combination of slanted boards and Asian-look screens.

Robert Borzych is riveting as the complex Dooley, a combination of shameless self-promoter, genuine humanitarian and unapologetic homosexual, even in those pre-“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” times. Though di Canzio doesn’t spend a lot of time exploring Dooley’s psyche, it’s easy to see the source of his devil-may-care self-confidence when his mother, the rich matron Agnes (Terril Miller, in a fine performance) shows up to narrate her side of his story.

Shaun Tuazon is terrific as Dooley’s main squeeze Khai (and also the mythical Thanatos), whom Dooley first hires for his clinic. He also proves himself a fine dancer.

Allison Riley is a hoot as publisher Iris, who considers Dooley a gift from the gods in terms of salability.

Charlie Riendeau is fine as Dooley’s commanding officer, who first threatens exposure of Dooley’s homosexuality.

Jesse Mackinnon plays Lansdale, head of the CIA detail in Saigon, who wants to recruit Dooley as a propaganda tool. Reed Willard and Noah Longton are fine in smaller roles.

Kudos also to dancers (called Dancing Gods) Nicholas Strassburg and Jacinto Delgado, whose grace and athleticism lends authenticity to the setting.

Dooley’s story is a fascinating one. Bravo to Diversionary for giving this world premiere a fine production.

The details

“Dooley” plays through May 29 at Diversionary Theatre, 4545 Park Bld., Suite 101.

Thursday at 7:30 p.m.; Friday at 8 p.m.; Saturday at 3 and 8 p.m.; Sunday at 2 p.m. Pay-what-you-will performance May 16 at 7:30 p.m.

For tickets call (619) 220-0097 or visit HERE.

To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.