Now there is a playwright who draws a lot of controversy. His scripts are usually dark and funny, but he has been accused of misogyny and worse when it comes to the female characters he creates. Plays such as Laughing Wild and The Marriage of Bette and Boo, for example, present us with women who are shrewish, insane, or just pitifully socially crippled. And while his short plays don’t really treat women any better, I’ve always found him to be better in small doses.
That brings me to the Coffee Cup Theater Company’s current production of three of Durang’s short plays. The quality varies from piece to piece, but the show as a whole is a nice introduction to the playwright’s unusual style.
The first portion is the introductory piece Mrs. Sorkin. Performed as a monologue by Cate Willard, it introduces us to the title character as she greets the audience and informs us about protocol and purpose behind the experience of attending the theater. She’s lost her notes, so she relies upon her somewhat scattered memory to give us a quick history about theater, drama and ancient Greeks, and how closely Dramamine is tied to drama. She also tells us that Mr. Durang is her nephew.
This section has a few scattered laughs and sets up the proceedings nicely, with a nuanced performance by Willard. As a nitpick, she really needs to try not to click her tongue quite so much; it got distracting after awhile. The director had her come back out in character to talk to the audience during the scene changes, but she was embarrassingly ill-equipped to ad-lib through the downtime. I think a simple blackout or an intermission would have sufficed.
Next we get For Whom the Southern Belle Tolls, a wacky parody of all things Tennessee Williams. Here we meet Lawrence (Nick Johnson, in a sweet but rather flat turn), a hypochondriac mother’s boy who never leaves the house and reveres his collection of swizzle sticks. Jamie Shannon gives one of the show’s best performances as Amanda, Lawrence’s vivacious and long-suffering mother. Lance Flint is also well cast as Amanda’s other son, Tom, a handsome, angry young man who wants nothing more than to get away from his dysfunctional family. Lilly Goban, on the other hand, screeches through her role as Lawrence’s half-deaf, lesbian, would-be love interest; a difficult role, to be sure, but one that requires a lot more subtlety than Goban provides.
The third play is hands-down the best of the three: Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You, a biting critique of Catholicism and organized religion that starts out as just funny but gets progressively darker as it moves toward its violent ending.We are introduced to Sister Mary (Shannon again, sinking her teeth into this role even deeper than in the previous entry), a world-weary nun presenting us with a lecture on the beliefs of the church. Her sermon is interrupted by the arrival of four of her former students, who seek to embarrass her in retaliation for the way she treated them in their youth. Most memorable are Diane (Lydia Kennebrew, in a heart-tugging performance surprisingly nuanced for the material) and Gary (Flint again, playing almost the other side of the coin to the character he played in the previous act). Can’t really say too much about this one without giving away too much, but suffice it to say this is my personal favorite Durang piece and it’s done well here.
Any production at the Rudyard Kipling struggles to create a convincing set and lighting design, and this show is no exception. However, director Dan Welch keeps things moving nicely and has elicited some really good performances from his cast. There were times, though, that I wished his performers would not rush the comedy; several sight gags and punch lines were plowed right over and lost.
Ultimately your enjoyment of the show will really depend on your tolerance for the playwright’s indulgences, but this is an acceptable production and worth a look.
Starring Lance Flint, Lily Goban, Zach Gombosky, Nick Johnson, Lydia Kennebrew, Allison Moore, Jamie Shannon, and Cate Willard.
FOR WHOM THE SOUTHERN BELLE TOLLS
SISTER MARY IGNATIUS EXPLAINS IT ALL FOR YOU
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