In the St. Edward's University production of Christopher Durang's redundantly titled 'Durang/Durang,' canonized American plays transform into comedic farce
Reviewed by Heather Barfield Cole, Fri., April 7, 2006
Mary Moody Northen Theatre, through April 9
Running Time: 3 hrs
In the St. Edward's University production of Christopher Durang's redundantly titled Durang/Durang, modern, canonized American plays (at least from the last 40 years) transform into comedic farce. Will you recognize references, plays, and genres that haunt the warped variations Durang gives us? The play has six distinct pieces, with three that parody popular late 20th-century plays and three poking fun at tragedy and the tacky business of character formation.
The Glass Menagerie, a community theatre favorite, distorts into a romping display of familial distress over a socially inept son in "For Whom the Southern Belle Tolls." Young, mentally deficient Lawrence (Daniel Adams) replaces Tennessee Williams' sorrowful and impotent Laura. His obsession with glass cocktail sticks mocks the girlish figurines that Laura hoarded. Elle Mahoney is the fussing mother desperate to rid herself of an incompetent child. With delightful skill, performers chortle and snap politically incorrect dialogue or words too impolite to declare with drawling accents. The overtly ridiculous mimicry of dramatic characters, those bloated personalities etched into American theatre history, reminded the friend accompanying me of a MAD TV sketch catered to theatre fans.
Laughter, that wonderful result after players slyly use time, text, physicality, and voice, is everywhere by the third piece. Sam Shepard's hyper-masculine body of work melts into an uproarious stew of "Shepard-ese," chunky with his violent language and gratuitous symbolism. The actors clown about as white trash, immersed in incestuous relationships, while peppering the show with backhanded commentary on Shepard's cynicism about American culture. As Jake, Nathan Osburn terrifically enacts his own doppelganger brother/shadow, torn between love for his sister and his heavily brain-damaged wife (whose injury was inflicted by his own copious rage). Duncan Coe jests as Jake's wife Beth. His drag performance, done using droops and stares, hysterically mimics nitwitted lovers.
In absurd form, "Nina in the Morning" gives us an opulent woman's obsession with face-lifts and beauty. Kathleen Cobb's Nina is deliciously repugnant, a send-up of lonely rich widow with bloodied false cheekbones costuming her sneering face while her manservant injects her children with sedatives to quiet their complaints. For "Wanda's Visit," Libby Dees' campy and obtrusive "bull in a china cabinet" plays well against her hosts' uptight stuffiness.
In his book The Haunted Stage (2003), Marvin Carlson writes, "Parody is a very ancient phenomenon. Parody in the theatre has in all periods functioned as a device to further reinforce the collective and ongoing nature of the theatergoing community." Parody is also a fickle art, but it's one that the gang at St. Ed's has revitalized for our collective amusement. The robust cast of actors and directorial sturdiness provided by students Joseph Mitchell Parks and Benjamin Taylor Ridgway help Durang/Durang exceed expectations. The action on stage is rarely dull or capricious, which gives testament to the hard labor and sincere devotion that this team has orchestrated. Fans of theatre will be better served if their repertoire includes experience with Williams or Shepard plays, but even without American theatre ghosts whispering why Durang's mockery is astute, you're sure to be amused by the production's ludicrous buffoonery.