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Short Plays With Big Bites

[whitespace] Durang/Durang
Paul Schraub

Stage Hams: The cast of 'Durang/Durang' parodies theatrical greats at the Broadway Playhouse.

'Durang/Durang' lampoons the theater world with an intelligent wit

By Karen Reardanz

FROM THE MOMENT Mrs. Sorkin (a.k.a. actor Julia Kapp), clad all in red, begins nervously waxing about the meaning of theater, declaring that the word "drama" stems from the Latin "Dramamine" and that theater is meant to irritate as much as entertain, it's evident that the plays to come will not make for an ordinary night of theater. Instead, Durang/Durang, which opened last weekend at Santa Cruz's Broadway Playhouse, wields a rapier wit, taking down theatrical suspects both obvious and unusual.

This collection of half a dozen one-act plays by the wickedly funny Christopher Durang spears many top playwrights, from Sam Shepard to Tennessee Williams to David Mamet, as well as pokes fun at the clichés so rife on the modern stage. With unflinching nerve, each play either lampoons theater itself (in the first part of the evening) or the human psyche (in the last plays of the night).

One of the best of the collection, "A Stye in the Eye" closes the first half of the show. A sendup of Shepard's A Lie of the Mind, it witnesses the aftermath of a murder as the raging schizophrenic Jake becomes his good personality, Frankie, and tries to win back the love of the wife he thought he just killed. With humor both impossibly obvious and barely noticeable, "A Stye in the Eye" captures the inanity of contrived theatrical plots and mocks the continual search for meaning by theatergoers and critics alike.

The second half, which is by no means as over the top as the first, delves into the absurdity of humans instead of theater. Though these selections evoked laughs from the audience, the tone was less jovial and at times--especially at the end of the too-long "Wanda's Visit," or throughout the dark and wacky "Nina in the Morning"--bordered on tragic.

Durang/Durang's ensemble cast, made up of various members of local theater troupes like Um ... Gee ... Um and Mountain Community Theater, carries off the six skits almost flawlessly. Christopher Sugarman, an actor in all six and the director of "A Stye in the Eye" and "Business Lunch in the Russian Tea Room," is by far the standout. With impeccable comic timing, Sugarman gives each of his characters--from a priest involved in a love affair with a rabbi to a socially challenged boy with a passion for cocktail stirrers--a subtle sardonic quality that's highly entertaining yet not overdone.

Dangerous Neighbors' Eric Conly successfully delivers physical humor as a transvestite Agnes of God in "Stye" and as the children of a narcissist in "Nina in the Morning" and turns self-mockingly serious as a frustrated playwright in "Business Lunch."

Durang/Durang also showcases the range of actor Daniel Hughes, as he goes from irritating in "For Whom the Southern Belle Tolls" to passive in "Wanda's Visit."


Durang/Durang continues its run Friday-Saturday (8pm) at the Broadway Playhouse, 526 Broadway, SC, through April 24. Tickets cost $10. For info, call 460-9276.

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From the March 31-April 7, 1999 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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