The Bare Theatre Book/AV Club.
With one week of rehearsal for DURANG/DURANG under our collective belt, we’re feeling good. We always manage to find great people, and Olivia has assembled a lethally funny crew for this show. There’s a lot of unique personalities, but with six short plays and 32 characters we need unique personalities.
When I tell people we’re doing DURANG/DURANG, the main question I get is, “What?” So I’d like to take this opportunity to break it down a little.
DURANG/DURANG is a collection of short one-act comedies written by Christopher Durang that was first produced in New York in 1994. The plays were not originally written together – in fact, “Wanda’s Visit” originated as a teleplay for PBS back in 1986. “Mrs. Sorken” and “For Whom The Southern Belle Tolls” had also been produced earlier in New York in one-act festivals.
Mrs. Sorken, the title character from the first play, lays the show out in her opening monologue. The first half is “Theatre,” and the second half is “Everything Else.” She then goes on to give a spontaneous lecture about drama after realizing she has forgotten her notes. Mrs. Sorken is one of those people that gives you the impression they like going to theatre, but don’t necessarily like it.
We included “For Whom The Southern Belle Tolls” in ONE NIGHT OF ABSOLUTE DISMAY back in February (check out photos on our Facebook page), and had so much fun doing it that it was a major reason why we decided to do the entire DURANG program. While it is a twisted tale of American dysfunction that is funny in its own right, it’s a spot on parody of Tennessee Williams’ THE GLASS MENAGERIE.
I gave MENAGERIE a re-read back in January when we were rehearsing for DISMAY. I have to say it not only helped me catch some of the more detailed jokes Durang included, but it reminded me why that play is such a classic. It truly is beautiful and sad, and Williams has some really interesting stage directions that I did not remember from reading in high school (film projections for a play that was written during WWII?).
So, if you’re looking for a quick read of great American literature, give MENAGERIE a go (or re-read) and then come laugh at “Belle.”
While Durang makes fun of MENAGERIE’s Laura (Lawrence in “Belle”), you can tell he loves Williams’ script. The same cannot be said for A LIE OF THE MIND, Sam Shepard’s saga of abuse and Americana that premiered in 1985. Durang turns this into “A Stye of the Eye,” and proceeds to skewer what he perceives as some pretty pretentious theatre.
A LIE OF THE MIND’s original cast included Harvey Keitel and Amanda Plummer, and featured music composed and played by North Carolina’s very own Red Clay Ramblers. It received critical acclaim, but according to Durang it ran 4 hours and he couldn’t understand why it got the praise it did.
With “A Stye of the Eye” Durang blasts away at heavy-handed symbolism and theatre that really wants to be “real.” While the parody mostly focuses on A LIE OF THE MIND, he works in references to AGNES OF GOD and GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS. If you haven’t read or seen A LIE OF THE MIND, feel free to pick up a copy (you’ll likely have to order it because our local book stores and libraries don’t seem to carry it). This may help you get the more specific references to the Shepard play, but reading this one is not required to enjoy “Stye!” Just come prepared to see some craziness and laugh.
If you’re feeling especially in the mood for reading, you may want to go ahead and check out John Pielmeier’s AGNES OF GOD and David Mamet’s GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS. If you’d rather watch the movie versions, they are both critically acclaimed and have great casts:
That concludes this portion of the Bare Theatre Book/AV Club.
The second half of DURANG/DURANG is pure fun. “Nina in the Morning” is an Edward Gorey-esque portrait of a woman who has everything, and all the neuroses that go with that. Nina reminds me of the Norma Desmond character in SUNSET BOULEVARD, played by Gloria Swanson in the Billy Wilder movie. Her looks are fading and her children are pathetic (similar theme to “Southern Belle”?), and this short is hilariously twisted.
“Wanda’s Visit” is a favorite of mine. It is a classic “dinner guest from hell” story and Wanda is a force of nature. The PBS teleplay Durang wrote it for was for a show called “Trying Times.” It featured works from various authors that centered around “difficult, trying events,” and the original version was just called “The Visit.” It was directed by Alan Arkin and featured Swoosie Kurtz, Jeff Daniels, and Julie Hagerty. Mr. Durang himself played the waiter.
The evening ends with “Business Lunch at the Russian Tea Room,” a humorous take on the business end of art. The central character – a playwright named “Chris” – is being pushed by his agent and a Hollywood mogul to write a script for a movie he has no interest in working on. The on-stage depiction of what this script becomes is truly not to be missed, and is an excellent closer for the evening.
We are really excited about this show. It’s not one for people who offend easily, but if you have an open mind and like to laugh at absurdity, we think you’ll enjoy it.
More info on Bare Theatre’s DURANG/DURANG: http://baretheatre.org/upcoming.html