Hope for Corky
by Sonia Kovacs
Brian Blessing, the central character in Hope for Corky, is a Milford radio celebrity with a fame disproportionate to his salary. He specializes in heartwarming human-interest stories in his hometown. When the play opens, he has the entire town in thrall over the fate of Corky, a dog who, it is rumored, tried to save a girl from drowning.
Roly-poly Ryan Carlson, who plays Blessing, is almost too perfect for the part. You want to slap him and say, "C'mon, lose a few pounds, wipe that grin off your face, and get a life." And indeed, his trivial Hallmark-card life suddenly crumbles when he is diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor, and he's forced to devise a largely unbelievable strategy for getting the medical help his paycheck won't provide.
A tumultuous hour and a half of small-town antics ensues, as so often happens at this theater. The Purple Rose excels at small-town plays, whether by design or because of some mystical contribution from the town of Chelsea itself.
Hope for Corky is too unfocused to be a great play. The crux of the story is Blessing's increasingly desperate attempts to save himself, as his radio audience becomes increasingly obsessed with the dog. Mass hysteria develops as people report Corky "sightings" all over Milford. Playwright Randall Godwin never seems entirely to embrace the bizarre and lively world of the town he shows too much sympathy for Blessing to be a satirist. Yet the story is too loony and slapstick to carry any kind of weighty message. (At one point, I thought I smelled some heavy-handed tut-tutting about Society Valuing Animals over People coming at me, but mercifully, it never really did.) At the end, the play seems to dissolve into a meditation about death and letting go.
Despite its flaws, it's an admirable first effort by Godwin, one of the Rose's regular actors. You get the feeling he wrote it with actors in mind, filling it with favorite riffs and fun characters. It's also directed by a Purple Rose actor, Michelle Mountain, who keeps it moving with quick, movielike cuts. Jim Porterfield (who plays "various male characters") is the most successful at pulling a coherent theme out of the busy script. Whenever he's onstage, a kind of surreal irony descends, which seems exactly the right touch.
Hope for Corky runs every Wednesday through Sunday through May 31.
[Originally published in May, 2003.]