Madness in the afternoon

The Durang Project

Written by Christopher Durang
Directed by Michael Klimzak
Midtown International Theatre Festival
Raw Space Theatre M
529 W. 42nd St. (279-4200/
Equity showcase (closes July 22)
Review by Arlene McKanic

There's something Durangish about a play starting at 3:20 in the afternoon. After all, Christopher Durang, author of the savage Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You, The Marriage of Bette and Boo, and Beyond Therapy has livened his works with dollops of the absurd, splashes of Catholic angst and enough genuine Weltzschmerz to keep his creations from being useless. The Durang Project, part of the Third Annual Midtown International Theatre Festival presented at Raw Space, is five blackout skits that thunder off into situations that are both hilarious and Kafkaesque, where perfectly normal and innocent folk must interface with lunatics.

The first skit, The Doctor Will See You Now, opens with a lady (Lori Evanson) in a shedding feather boa erupting into a Broadway show-stopper that's part of a public-service announcement about VD. The action shifts to the exam room where the doctor (Tim Cross) and nurse (Sophia Thomas) insist to the sad-sack patient with the seasonal allergies (Craig Thom Cook) that he has a venereal disease. Later, they pinch his address book and call his wife and parents to inform them of same.

DMV Tyrant, where Seth Rudetsky's motorist was aggressively not served by Cross's DMV clerk, is so close to the truth of what people go through that it's squirm-inducing, while in Funeral Parlor, Christy Paysen's uptight widow was accosted by J. Brent Peebles's nutcase, who insisted that she keen like a banshee; the payoff was unexpectedly moving.

Randie Shane was hilarious as the eponymous Kitty the Waitress, who's supposed to wait on a guy (Cross) recuperating from a divorce at a tropical island resort. But then again, she can't be his waitress, because she's a cat. Madness, underscored by lugubrious Edith Piaf songs, ensues.

Madness also permeates the last vignette, Business Lunch at the Russian Tea Room, which is fueled by excellent performances by Peebles as a stand-in for the author and Rudetsky, who shines like tinsel as a pompous Hollywood bigwig ("I love to stand in a long line and just walk to the front and cut in") who's willing to pay the put-upon writer stupid money to crank out preposterous screenplays.

Though the playlets have an inevitable sketchiness to them during a show that's a little less than an hour long, Durang is still capable of delivering a sting; "I'm Episcopalian" explains Paysen's emotionally blocked widow. Sara Najjar's lighting plan was unadorned, with the light nearly always bright and unfocused, save in Doctor, where there was a spotlight on Rudetsky's piano player as he accompanied Evanson's crazy lady. The set design was simple, just arrangements of small tables and chairs. Costume coordinator Cheryl Widner also kept the costuming unexceptional, save Evanson's ratty feather boa and Shane's quasi Frenchmaid-cum-Apache dancer's threads. Michael Klimzak's direction was equally spare, with the actors moving no more nor less than necessary. Clearly the emphasis was to be on Durang's words, and in The Durang Project, it's enough.

Box Score:

Writing: 2
Directing: 2
Acting: 2
Sets: 1
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2002 Arlene McKanic