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Why Torture Is Wrong, And The People Who Love Them  by Christopher Durang – Los Angeles Theater Review  

 

SATIRE IN THE SAFE HANDS OF THE BLANK THEATRE 

 

picture - Why Torture Is Wrong And The People Who Love ThemTheater Review 

by Harvey Perr 

published February 14, 2010 

 

Why Torture Is Wrong, And The People Who Love Them 

now playing in Los Angeles at the Stella Adler Theater

through March 14

 

A young woman wakes up in a strange bed with a man she has never seen before who tells her that, in the midst of a drunken orgy, they were married. Okay, the woman says, so let’s get it annulled. No, the husband says, he likes being married to her. He also tells her that his name is Zamir and, though he’s clearly Middle Eastern, he insists he’s Irish. So she goes home to seek escape through an appeal to her parents. But her mother can’t talk about anything but the theater and sits around the house in dresses that look exactly alike except for their colors. Her father collects butterflies, he says, but he won’t let anybody into his upstairs study where he ostensibly keeps his butterflies, because, well, in truth, he’s a right-wing nut case whose study is headquarters for a spy ring in search of terrorists, whose accomplices include a doting female assistant whose panties keep falling down and a master spy who, every time he opens his mouth to speak, sounds suspiciously like a Warner Bros. cartoon character. Furthermore, the minister, who married the young couple, also makes porno films on the side. Where are we?

 

picture - Why Torture Is Wrong And The People Who Love ThemIf you haven’t guessed yet, we are inside the deliciously cockeyed brain of one of the American theater’s national treasures, Christopher Durang, who stubbornly insists that farce and satire are alive and kicking and whose newest play Why Torture Is Wrong, And The People Who Love Them is all the proof you need that he couldn’t be more right. And not only is it alive and kicking, but it is precisely the cure-all for the malaise that has spread like wildfire around us in the past decade. As a matter of fact, when this fanged bit of comic misanthropy opened at New York’s Public Theater a year ago, the new mood of resurgent hope we were experiencing made it seem as if his play might have been funnier if it had opened a year earlier. But, here we are, a short year later, and the play seems timelier than ever. The world has gone wacky and Durang has charted its course with hilariously funny results.

 

picture - Why Torture Is Wrong And The People Who Love ThemAnd the Blank Theatre Company production, under the initially strained but ultimately pitch-perfect direction of Daniel Henning, is inspired lunacy, thanks largely to a cast of unusually capable comic performers. For the parts of the parents, Luella and Leonard, nuttiness is in order, and Christine Estabrook and Mike Genovese do the job so nuttily that if I hadn’t seen them at curtain call looking as normal as you or I, I’d have imagined  they were carted off to the nearest  insane asylum and released only in time for the next performance.  Ms. Estabrook’s stringent comic commentaries on New York theater are, of course, stand-ins for Durang’s pitiless observations, but Ms. Estabrook is not only riotously funny but there is, underneath, a passion that drives her to distraction and madness that is truly fascinating to behold. Her treatise on Detective Story as a portrait of a woman deteriorating before our eyes is as much tragic as it is an act of comic brilliance. (This part was so wonderfully done by Durang stalwart Kristin Nielsen in the Public Theater production that I couldn’t imagine anyone being better, but Ms. Estabrook carries it at least three steps further.)

 

picture - Why Torture Is Wrong And The People Who Love ThemAlec Mapa’s Looney Tunes impersonations evoke uncontrolled laughter; Catherine Hicks’s enraptured panty-dropping acolyte provides deadpan merriment; Nicholas Brendon’s somewhat pixilated porno/minister is a constant delight. One wishes that Rhea Seehorn, in the role of the young heroine, playing, as she does, the one normal person in the midst of a bunch of crazies, would have been more restrained, but her comic timing is so natural and unforced that it now seems a viable choice. It is interesting to note that the one weak characterization in both productions I’ve seen is the part of the harassed but curiously unlikable young husband, so I blame it now not on the actor (Sunil Malhotra) but on the part.

 

picture - Why Torture Is Wrong And The People Who Love ThemThis is the sort of the play that should be done at the Taper or the Geffen, if only because a larger theater could possibly give it the production it deserves. Having the actors maneuver through pieces of real furniture does not begin to capture the stylized world of Durang’s imagination; it just makes us aware of the budget restraints of small theater. But, then again, as shabby as Why Torture Is Wrong (etc.) looks, it is big theater in every other way. Great comedy is rare enough; great comedy well done is tonic for the soul.

 

harveyperr @ stageandcinema.com

 
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