Six short plays by Christopher Durang were presented by the American Globe Theatre. Four were terrific; two must content themselves with being considered merely amusing.
Characters in a Durang play are as instantly recognizable as those, say, by Tennessee Williams, and indeed the twain meet in For Whom the Southern Belle Tolls (directed by Rusty Tennant), a simultaneous homage and skewering of The Glass Menagerie. All of Williams's subtext is text, and all sentimentality is punctured. Durang's audacity was matched by the terrific acting - Alyson Reim was fiercely funny as the mother; Jim Grollman a hoot as her crippled son (well, he says he's crippled - his mother thinks he's just doing it for attention); Russell Marcel just right as Tom, whose movie-going secrets are revealed; and Erika Lynn Becker as the gentlewoman caller who's less gentle, more alligator-wrestler.
Next was Business Lunch at the Russian Tea Room (directed by Allegra Schorr Fitch), which played like it was based on actual events. Playwright (George Eid) who would rather be sorting his laundry meets with film-development executive (a fiercely funny Elizabeth Keefe). If Durang really was offered some of the properties mentioned here, humankind should be ashamed of itself. Marcel and Grollman acted out part of one tale, guaranteed to offend everyone not already laughing too hard.
DMV Tyrant (directed by Fitch) was the weakest of the lot, but while everyone has a DMV nightmare story, few could tell it as amusingly. And it benefited from a fiercely funny portrayal by Julia Levo as the DMV Lady (have you noticed a pattern here?); and Becker was nearly unrecognizable from her Southern Belle portrayal.
Funeral Parlor (directed by Tennant) showed another Durang specialty - a character so into himself that he is completely unaware of how intolerable he is. Here, a mourner (Eid) imposes his life on the widow of the deceased (Levo) at the man's funeral. The play wasn't quite top-drawer, and nobody was fierce, but Levo, nearly unrecognizable from her earlier parts, made crying out loud at a funeral laugh-out-loud funny.
But wait, there's more. Nina in the Morning (directed by Nathaniel Merchant) allowed Keefe, nearly unrecognizable etc., to give a wildly extravagant but remarkably controlled (and yes, fiercely funny) performance as Nina, a diva of no particular talent. Durang's humor is darker here, and it's essentially a character study, but boy, what a character. Keefe was astoundingly funny wrapping her mouth around the word "lubricity," or pondering a choice between death and lunch.
The darkest humor is the last: The Actor's Nightmare (directed by Merchant). Part Twilight Zone and part horror show, Duncan Rogers had a field day as the actor who not only doesn't know what his lines are, but finds the play he's in alternating between Hamlet and Private Lives, ending up on a chopping block. There's a fine line between laughing and panicking, but Rogers got the laughs at the same time he highlighted the terror.
The production had excellent lighting (J. Reid Farrington),
terrific costumes (Shana Luther), and a workable set (Vincent
A. Masterpaul). All three directors' work was essentially
invisible, keeping the focus on the plays (which are showy enough,
thank you). In some ways the material is a little too precious
for its own good - would Southern Belle be as funny without
a working knowledge of Menagerie? Would Nightmare
mean as much to an audience unfamiliar with Lives, Samuel
Beckett, or (of all things) A Man for All Seasons? In the
end, it proves that, in reality, it's Durang's world. We just
live in it.
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Copyright 2000 David Mackler