It takes a pretty odd but inventive guy to turn talk of swizzle sticks and Dramamine into an exploration of society and theater. But Christopher Durang ’71 and his over-the top, witty and downright deranged plays manage just that and more. Whether creating brilliantly disgruntled or just delightfully dysfunctional characters, he invents situations that are at once rudely absurd and universally revealing.
The Adams House Drama Society’s production of Theatre of the Durang, a well-chosen collection of four short one-act plays by the Harvard graduate and celebrated playwright, playfully exhibited the shifty critical eye that is Durang’s trademark.
Mrs. Sorken, the title character of the night’s first short play, was comically rendered with just the right balance of homey quaintness and repressed homemaker syndrome by Andrea D. Leahy ’05. Mrs. Sorken gives us a speech on the etymological breakdown of the words such as theater and drama. “Drama,” among other things she tells us, is related to Dramamine, which prevents air-sickness, car sickness and general nausea—the ultimate goal of theater itself.
In the night’s second play, The Actor’s Nightmare, George Spelvin, played by Matthew J. Weinstock ’05, the semi-amnesiac lead actor thrown into plays ranging from Hamlet to Happy Days, gropes for lines and the zipper of his costar’s dress only to deliver perhaps the most painful soliloquy in stage history. The hilariously over-acted Horatio of Christian E. Lerch, and the dead-on deadpan delivery of Winnie by Jessica M. Gordon ’02-’03, highlighted the play’s comic effect.
For Whom the Southern Bell Tolls, a parody of Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie, takes a look at a dysfunctional Southern family including a swizzle-stick obsessed, hypochondriac boy named Lawrence, played by Tom Giordano ’06, and his mother Amanda, played by Alicia Menendez ’05. Amanda states quite plainly to her son, “It’s not that I’m bitter, dear, it’s just that I hate my life.”
Durang’s play is in many ways a bleak statement on the disappointments of life and the inability to communicate and introduces two homosexual characters to update William’s vision of the American family and society. Still this production focused more on slapstick comic delivery than an exploration of these more serious themes.
In fact, Theatre of the Durang didn’t offer a night of heady theater, nor did it hit on the more critical side of Durang in its execution. But in the end, the comic appeal was intact throughout, and the audience was able to catch a glimpse of the peculiarity and ingenuity that is Christopher Durang’s theatrical world.