Durang by the Dozen: No Guns, No Sofas

Directed by Martin Everall
Lightning Strikes Theatre Company
Midtown International Theatre Festival
Pantheon Theatre
303 W. 42nd St.
Ticket Central, 416 W. 42nd St. 1-8 p.m. (279-4200) or culturefinder.com
Equity showcase (closes August 26)
Review by Adrienne Onofri

Twelve plays in one sitting, and they leave the audience wanting more? What a tribute to the cast of Durang by the Dozen: No Guns, No Sofas-one of the best ensembles to enliven a New York stage in recent seasons. Even diehard Christopher Durang fans realize his humor can wear thin; it does, after all, revolve around three basic motifs: mocking the Religious Right, insiders' knowledge of theater, and general nonsense. But even in the funniest pieces of Durang by the Dozen, the performers eclipse the script-creating a prodigious panoply of personalities, running the gamut from poignant to ludicrous, and playing both on and against their physical types. As in most sketch humor, many of the characters are one-dimensional, but you'd never know it from the complexity and zest the actors bring to their roles.

DL Shroder is the first to shine, opening the show with a monologue in drag by a very proper lady who explains the origins of theater. Although Shroder's Mrs. Sorken resembles a less-caricatured version of Dame Edna, it's not just the cross-dressing that elicits laughs. This is an inspired bit of character acting (Shroder does it again later in the program, as a disco-dancing rabbi), and Mrs. Sorken's lapses into asides and changes in mood are entirely convincing. Those who don't know theater well-and therefore won't get references to Fosca in Passion or Diana Rigg doing Greek tragedy-will be lost, however.

The same goes for the second playlet, Desire, Desire, Desire, in which Durang flaunts his cleverness by merging A Streetcar Named Desire, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, The Iceman Cometh, Glengarry Glen Ross, Waiting for Godot and Harvey into one story. It's overextended and silly, but great fun for those in the know.

The third piece introduces us to the supremely gifted Lori Funk, in a spoof of the self-deprecation of female comedians. Her monologue is slightly outdated-mentioning such '80s phenomena as the co-op craze and Hollywood Squares with John Davidson-but as with Shroder's solo, it allows the performer to impressively exercise both her comic flair and her acting chops. Funk later proves herself an adroit physical comedian in the Ozzie-&-Harriet-gone-to-hell satire John & Mary Doe, and she darn near steals the show with her portrayal of a bottom-feeding TV exec in the finale, Business Lunch at the Russian Tea Room. Since that piece mocks Hollywood's corrupting influence on theater artists, I know there's tremendous irony in my saying this, but: Get this gal a sitcom-or at least an audition for Saturday Night Live!

Durang by the Dozen also includes a retaliation for the crackdown on NEA beneficiaries, Entertaining Mr. Helms, and a revision of Medea (co-written with Wendy Wasserstein), in which the Greek chorus's pronouncements take the form of self-help book titles and showtune lyrics. Scriptwise, Funeral Parlor and Canker Sores and Other Distractions are probably the weakest of the lot, as Durang is funniest when he's satirizing, not just riffing on personality types. For that reason, 1-900-DESPERATE is redeemed mostly by the actors' shrewd interpretations. Likewise, Kitty the Waitress doesn't make a lot of sense but features some fine dialect work by the cast and a gem of a comic performance by Carla-Anne Burks. The Hardy Boys and the Mystery of Where Babies Come From is all setup and no punchline. Yet even as the material withers, the company's polished execution keeps the production soaring. (The rest of the marvelous cast: Rochelle Stempel, Scott Andrew Kurchak, Michelle Maryk, Ethan Kent, JulieHera DeStefano, Jeff Buckner, John McDermott, Eileen Glenn, Robyn Parsons, Nicholas J. Coleman.)

Martin Everall's brisk yet attentive direction is enhanced by the excellent onstage and backstage talent. Costumes-which range from togas to preppie wear to tropical island fashions-are a vivid and varied lot, designed by Lauren Pytel. The uncredited set fluctuates appropriately, too, with some actors moving furniture between scenes while others parade past with placards announcing the next play's title. And the whole thing is set to a score of diverse orchestrations of Beethoven's "Ode to Joy." The performances in Durang by the Dozen can make all concerned rejoice about the talent pool available Off-Off-Broadway.
Box Score:

Writing: 1

Directing: 2

Acting: 2

Set: 1

Costumes: 2

Lighting/Sound: 2

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Copyright 2000 Adrienne Onofri