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August 14, 2021:

Durang! reviewed by Rob Stevens

Christopher Durang has been a favorite playwright of this reviewer since I first saw his musical spoof of Hollywood films A History of the American Film at the Mark Taper Forum in 1976. Durang has had a prolific career with over 50 plays, nearly 40 of them one-acts, published and performed. Yet the few of his works to reach Broadway over the decades seldom had a run of more than three weeks even with the star power of Sigourney Weaver, John Lithgow, David Hyde Pierce and Dianne Wiest involved. Even his 2013 Tony Award-winning Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike only ran 189 performances. South Coast Repertory did an evening of his one-acts, A Mess of Plays by Chris Durang in 1996. Now for the 2021 Hollywood Fringe Festival Mmmkay Productions and Crown City Theatre Company have gathered four of his longer one-acts with the umbrella title Durang!, under the direction of Kristin Towers-Rowles. The exclamation point is very appropriate since Durang’s twisted, warped, demented and delightful sense of humor is fully on display.

Dan Lovato, Michelle Bonebright-Carter and Michael Mullen (photos by Jennifer Bendik)

First up is For Whom the Southern Belle Tolls, Durang’s parody of Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie. Throughout his career, Durang has written parodies of famous films, plays and literature; everyone and everything from Sam Shepard, Noel Coward, Wallace Shawn, Jean Giradoux, The Hardy Boys, The Brothers Karamazov, Dickens, Medea and the Book of Leviticus. In this parody, Amanda Wingvalley (Michael Mullen) is quickly running out of plans and patience as she deals with the future of her children. Shy Lawrence (Dan Lovato) uses the excuse of his limp, his eczema and his asthma to keep from meeting prospective mates. He would rather spend time with his collection of glass cocktail stirrers which he has painstakingly named. His brother Tom (Michael J. Marchak) prefers to spend his evenings at the movies, finding sailors to bring back to his room. But he finally relents and brings home a Feminine Caller, co-worker Jinny (Michelle Bonebright-Carter) from the factory. Not only is Jinny hard of hearing from working on the noisy machines (she shouts everything and usually hears it wrong to begin with) but she is a lesbian with a girlfriend so no future wife for Lawrence. Mullen has plenty of charm and vivacity as Amanda slowly breaks down over the disastrous dinner and date and keeps the madcap madness rolling merrily along.

Will Potter and Mouchette Van Helsdingen

In ‘denity crisis it’s no wonder Jane (Megan Cochrane), who is recovering from a suicide attempt by slashing her thighs, has trouble keeping her sanity and trying to find her identity among her crazy family. Her overly cheerful mother, Edith Fromage (Mouchette Van Helsdingen), claims to be French and the inventor of cheese. Her brother Robert (Will Potter) seems to be having an affair with his mother, but it’s confusing because Jane also sees him as her father and her grandfather as well as Edith’s French lover. Her psychiatrist, Mr. Summers (Marchak), is not much help as he changes into Peter Pan when Jane recounts a traumatic experience of seeing the play at age eight. Together Edith and her French lover invent banana bread. Summers returns later after a sex change along with his wife (Shayna Gabrielle) whom he has swapped places with. If this sounds confusing to you, think what it must feel like to Jane. Van Helsdingen seems to be having the most fun here.

Jen Talton, Michael Mullen and Neil Unger

In Wanda’s Visit, a contented 13-year married couple Jim (Neil Unger) and Marsha (Jen Talton) have their lives disrupted when an old high school friend of Jim’s arrives. Wanda (Mullen) is a force of nature, a non-stop talking whirling dervish with a definite letch for Jim whom she says was hot for her in high school. Jim remembers it differently but that doesn’t stop Wanda from nearly destroying his marriage. Wanda talks day and night, even crawling into the couples’ bed, revealing all her secrets—her promiscuousness in college, her multiple husbands, her herpes, her facial surgery and time in witness protection, etc. Jim seems flattered by the attention but Marsha is soon at the end of her rope and a fishbone may be the answer to her prayers. Can this marriage survive? Mullen steamrolls his way through this scene with energy to spare. Unger makes a good straight man.

Chris Ramirez and James Everts.

The Actors Nightmare is probably the best known of this quartet of one-acts since it was so frequently coupled with Durang’s controversial hit Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All for You. A hapless actor, George Spelvin (James Everts), or is he really an accountant, finds himself as the understudy forced to go on in a leading role for which he has had no rehearsal. Are they doing Noel Coward’s Private Lives or Samuel Beckett’s Endgame or A Man for All Seasons ? Or all three which will really end the game for Spelvin when the executioner lops off his head. Sometimes the stage manager (Bonebright-Carter) is helpful and gives Spelvin his line, other times she doesn’t as the poor actor screams Stella as well as Line over and over.


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