Thursday, April 23, 2009

Why Torture Is Wrong (And The People Who Love Them)

photo: Joan Marcus

Christopher Durang's latest absurd comedy (at The Public) gets off to a bang-up start as middle-class Felicity (Laura Benanti) wakes up next to a volatile stranger (Amir Arison) who she definitely married the night before and who may or may not be a Middle Eastern terrorist. Felicity's parents are no use when she takes her husband home hoping they'll help shake him off: Mom (Kristine Nielsen) prattles on continually about the theatre (mostly Wicked; Durang uses that show the way that playwrights used to use Cats, as evidence of theatre's cultural bankruptcy) and far-right-wing Dad (Richard Poe) has his new son-in-law bound and gagged for interrogation almost as quickly as you can say The Patriot Act. The play is snarky and funny for a good while, well-served by Nicholas Martin's direction which keeps a brisk pace and a unifying cartoon tone, and the principal cast is excellent. (Benanti, familiar from musicals, slips into her straight role amid trademark Durang lunacy with ease and skill, and Nielsen's schtick is perfect for this material, a real scream) But eventually the stones that Durang throws at American paranoia and extremism turn to softballs: Dad's right wing conspirators, a man who speaks in Looney Tunes impersonations and a woman whose panties keep falling to her ankles, aren't especially inspired creations and lack satiric sting.

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