The Austin Chronicle


Local Arts Reviews

Reviewed by Rob Curran, March 8, 2002, Arts

Laughing Wild: The Most Sensational Beckett Show

Auditorium on Waller Creek,

through March 10

Running Time: 2 hrs, 10 min

Trapped in a sanitorium with nothing but Samuel Beckett, daytime TV, and Jim Henson flicks, Christopher Durang might have invented something less bizarre than Laughing Wild. The sum of the action: A woman and a man have a row in a supermarket, later the woman gets chucked out of a taxi. This minimal plot gives Durang a chance to nail one moment: the instant when a stranger crosses into personal space. That moment will raise the hairs on a body's neck and cause much giddiness.

The Woman is a genuine, certifiable New York nut on leave from Creedmoor Sanitorium. If something makes her mad -- Sally Jessy Raphael, her chapter of Alcoholics Anonymous, or the person in her way at the tuna stand in the supermarket -- the Woman launches into a public exhibition. As the Woman, Katie Brock is an Olympian of physical comedy, leaning on nonexistent planes, doing amazing googly moves with her eyes. Brock also completes a number of mental triple lutzes. One sequence begins with her applying for a job by invisible telephone. She tells the imaginary recruiter that she would not kill anyone at the job site. The sequence ends with Katie persuading the audience to join this madness and vote on whether or not they would give her a job. Katie Brock wins high scores (but no job) from the audience.

The Man realizes that New York is making him nuts, so he takes a personality workshop, he goes to therapy, and he experiments with New Age mysticism. He really wants to handle things like relationships, his career, and the weirdo behind him at the tuna stand in the supermarket in a positive way. But he enjoys being a cynic too much. Kirk Burg relishes the Man's caustic wit. Durang and Burg earn hilarity points when the Man mimics the kind of God who would invent AIDS as a gay disease.

In an inspired piece of direction, Theresa Leckbee makes Burg a Noel Coward kind of god, smoking cigarettes and crossing his legs with icy precision. Like a capricious figment of a Coward play, God condemns segments of the human world with a wave of his ciggie. Hemophiliacs, homosexuals -- he decides that he hates any group that begins with an "h." Could anyone believe in that kind of god?

But Durang's Man and Woman also suffer from schtick that stretches credibility. Only the Count of Sesame Street could get away with a repeatedly long and annoying laugh. Durang burdens both characters with too many mantras and catchphrases. Durang's association of mental illness with violence is no credit to his resourceful imagination. Like a (Canadian) figure skating pair, Burg and Brock provide the most entertainment in town, but don't work with the most fulfilling piece of art. Laughing Wild raises a great question: Why do we so seldom appreciate contact with strangers? But the answer, New York makes us nuts and we should all just slow down a little, comes straight from daytime TV.

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