Sunday, October 18, 2009

Why Torture Is Wrong and The People Who Love Them

Durang’s “TORTURE’…Cheney let loose at CPT

Christopher Durang, the author of ‘WHY TORTURE IS WRONG AND THE PEOPLE WHO LOVE THEM,’ which is now in production at Cleveland Public Theatre, is the crown prince of the bizarre and controversial. He covers up deep messages with absurdist farce, leaving audiences confused as to whether they should be laughing or crying at the state of the world, or at least Durang’s view of the world.

The titles of Durang’s works are just a hint to what his plays are like. Consider such monikers as ‘Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All for You,’ ‘Baby With the Bathwater,’ ‘The Nature and Purpose of the Universe,’ ‘The Idiots Karamazov,’ and ‘The Vietnamization of New Jersey.’

‘TORTURE’ thrusts paranoia and anxiety to the forefront.

Take a daughter who, while in a drunken state, marries a man from “Ireland” who speaks with an Arabic accent, keeps threatening to kill her, and whose plan is for her father to support him and his “activities” the rest of his life. There is the father who collects “butterflies,” his euphemism for attack weapons. There is the ditzy mother who is enamored with the theatre. As she babbles on, and changes dresses to parallel the color of the terror alerts, one can only wonder if this lady is crazy or smart as a fox. Things snowball from there, and before long we find ourselves laughing at a man getting beaten up and having his fingers amputated by someone who beeps like The Road Runner and a woman whose panties keep falling down because of the poor quality of the elastic in the waistband of the Chinese made undies.

The CPT production, under the creative directing of Beth Wood, is on course. The pacing is right and the character development consistent. Most impressive is the fine tuning of farcical elements in the staging. Farce is very difficult to create. It is often overdone, not played with the needed realistic tone. ‘TORTURE’ succeeds in making it work.

Mary Jane Nottage is nothing short of hysterical perfection as the “air-headed” Luella, who is constantly confusing rreal life with the theatre and movies. Robert Hawkes does an on-target maniacal Dick Cheney characterization, seeing national disasters in every corner. Liz Conway, as the daughter, goes from calm resolve to hysteria with the right tonations. Scott Ackerman taunts us by making Zamir, the Irish-Arab-terrorist-con man-dishwasher wanna be, a living contradiction. Zac Hudak’s interludes as the scene stealing Narrator, are delightful. Doug Kusak’s Reverend Mike, the drug dealing minister who makes pornographic films, could have been a little more sleezy. Jenna Messina, she with the panties constantly around her ankles, had a nice feel for the comedy aspects of the role, but wasn’t quite believable as a “real” person.

Jenniver Sparano must have spent hours making all those varied colored identical dresses and dying matching shoes to aid Nottage’s visual illusion.

Beth Wood’s set design, while creative, caused many delays and distractions due to the number of times the set wagons had to be dragged around.

Capsule judgement: If you like the bizarre, if you are enamored by farce, if you like the writing style of Christopher Durang, you’ll really enjoy ‘WHY TORTURE IS WRONG AND THE PEOPLE WHO LOVE THEM.’