There are many reasons I'd rather forget about the 1980s, and James McManus' Dorothy 6 stirs up most of them: Reaganism, the downward-spiraling Pirates, and the death of the steel industry as the economic mainstay of dozens of local towns and thousands of families. So many of the small cities and boroughs that the robber barons carved up as industrial fiefdoms in the 19th century still haven't recovered in the 21st.
Since I missed Dorothy's 2004 premiere at Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Co., my only point of comparison for the company's current production is the unfortunate reality of the original period. And McManus' play does indeed capture the self-delusion, sparked by desperation and despair, of furloughed mill workers fighting to save a shuttered blast furnace. But it marginalizes, even trivializes, the very real, year-plus-long protest and plans to revive Dorothy through some sort of employee buy-out. Support was not just by a handful of quixotic steelworkers, as it seems here, but community-wide, and "Fort Duquesne" (as their encampment was called) drew national and international support. Hardly mentioned amid the play's sturm und drang is the callous management (and mismanagement) of US Steel.
Apart from that, Mrs. Lincoln, the play is pretty good. Dorothy is peopled with solid, real portraits of stricken steelworkers. It explores how one particular family is coming apart at the seams, and not just because of the industrial earthquake around them. The story moves between the steelworkers' lot across from Dorothy 6 and an August-Wilson-esque diner that is, like the Steel Valley, seeing its last days. We get perspectives from three generations, a generous dose of Pittsburgh sports mania (with some of the details stretched), at least one good speech for each of the six characters, and a final catharsis.
Directed by Marcus Muzopappa (who also designed a most effective set), this production lags more than it needs to. Maybe those many scene changes will become brisker during the run. But there are some solid performances, led by Nathan Hollabaugh as the "simple" but strong Oates, a post-Vietnam Steinbeckian Lenny. Also notable are Claire Fraley as the sharply shrewish diner owner; Judy Kaplan as the much-tried wife of the central character, portrayed by John Gresh; Paul Stockhausen as his dissolute friend; and Deanna Tangeman as their punkish daughter.
Revived for Pittsburgh's 250th anniversary, Dorothy 6 hammers its points home a bit more than need be, but it brings to life one of the roughest, most painfully memorable parts of local history.
Dorothy 6 continues through Sept. 28. Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Co., 542 Penn Ave., Downtown. 412-288-0358 or www.pghplaywrights.com