Share story

One moment, she radiates innocent delight. Then her face crumples into fear and despair. Sometimes she is strikingly pretty. Other times, seething anger and anguish make her almost ugly.

A lot of bad things happen to Dolores Price, the besieged central character in Wally Lamb’s best-selling novel, “She’s Come Undone,” and in Book-It Repertory Theatre’s new stage adaptation of it.

Many of those bad things are the work of wicked or clinically messed-up adults, preying on a vulnerable youth. Some are of Dolores’ own making.

Whatever Lamb’s eventful story hands her, the outstanding young actor Jocelyn Maher can handle it. As Dolores, she ages from a cheerful 4-year-old into a defiled teenager and finally, a soul-scarred but self-accepting woman of 40.

This week, save 90% on digital access.

Maher embodies those transformations so seamlessly, you never once stop believing her. And she does it all with barely a costume change or a moment offstage to catch her breath, even “gaining” 100 pounds convincingly — as much from her slumped posture and demeanor as her costume padding.

Maher, a recent UW drama grad with a promising future, is the linchpin of Book-It Rep’s ”She’s Come Undone.” Adapted and directed by Kelly Kitchens, the show also sports a highly capable supporting cast — including Betsy Schwartz as Dolores’ mentally fragile mother, Julie Jamieson as her rock-solid and ramrod-stiff grandma, and Cobey Mandarino as her caring but unreliable father.

Kitchens guides us swiftly, smoothly through this trying saga. But at 500-plus pages, Lamb’s book proves difficult to dramatize in two-and-a-half hours, without shuttling from one disaster to the next.

That causes a piling-on effect, as misfortunes worthy of a Charles Dickens orphan land on Dolores’ shoulders. And with little time for respite or reflection, some characters are reduced to snapshots, and the many plot strands are resolved rather too neatly, and sentimentally. (It might have been helpful to boil down Lamb’s epic to a less sprawling tale.)

The first blow to young Dolores is a rough parental divorce that leaves her addicted to candy and TV, and deeply mistrustful of adults.

Most shattering is a particularly sadistic spate of child abuse by a twisted pretty-boy neighbor, Jack (Trevor Y. Marston). A villain out of a Lifetime Channel girl-in-peril movie, Jack woos, befriends and flatters lonely Dolores, and then (in, be warned, a violently graphic scene) rapes her.

Dolores is apparently a magnet for vicious people, like her mean and snooty college roommate (Allie Pratt), and the narcissistic, controlling boyfriend (Andre Nelson) who totally trashes her fantasy-lover image of him.

Most moving, and deftly conveyed in Kitchens’ well-choreographed staging, is the most unmelodramatic relationship, between Dolores and her undemonstrative but stalwart grandmother, played by the excellent Jamieson with a shot of vinegar and a drop of honey. This lasting bond changes and deepens, as the two begin to understand one another over time.

Though heavy, “She’s Come Undone” is not humorless — even if the plot leads its heroine into a mental hospital and perilously close to suicide. Along with her other gifts, Maher is a dab hand with ironic wisecracks, as is Jamieson.

And Susanna Burney draws laughs as Roberta, a sage and salty tattoo parlor owner who, along with a guardian-angel guidance counselor (John Bianchi) supports Dolores through thick and thin.

Misha Berson:

Custom-curated news highlights, delivered weekday mornings.