‘Deranged Durang’ at Lala Theatre at The National Conservatory of Dramatic Arts by Amanda Gunther

FOUR AND A HALF STARS
The funny farm meets the loony bin in the zany production of Deranged Durang. Presented at The National Conservatory of Dramatic Arts in Washington, DC; in conjunction with Lala Theatre, this showing of six short plays by Durang was utterly bizarre and kept me laughing through its brief run. With a talented cast of actors that knew how to over-exaggerate comedy to its most hilarious, this brief little excursion into the dark humors of Christopher Durang made for an entertaining afternoon at the theatre.

Lala Theatre's cast of 'Deranged Durang.' Photo by Arturo Tolentino.

Lala Theatre’s cast of ‘Deranged Durang.’ Photo by Arturo Tolentino.

While some of Durang’s humor may not be for everyone, as he shoots to satirize everything and offend everyone, mostly its entertainment in its rawest form. Tackling topics from desperate phone sex dial-in lines, to The Hardy Boys and their inept ability to determine where babies come from, it’s a great line-up of entertainment. There was even a comic approach to Medea for those that prefer the classics. Some of the plays were funnier than others and some of them were just down-right awkward, but overall it made for a good sampling of what Durang can really do.

Directed by Arturo Tolentino, the performance had a deeply collaborative feel to it. The performers worked as one unit slipping and sliding in and out of the various plays, creating a cohesive feel that ties the six shows together. Everybody had a chance to showcase their talents at one point or another throughout the duration of the show. Tolentino brought together a group of Conservatory alumni for the production and made for a well rounded selection of talent.

Canker Sores & Other Distractions

A brief dalliance into why two people once divorced should never remarry, this production focused mainly on Prunella (Dena Colvin) and Martin (Samuel Wright). With the obnoxious interruptions of the waitress, Midge (Alanna Mensing). Colvin and Wright had a naturally gushy approach to their love; freakishly over the top and totally drowned in the notion of their reunion. But the play stealer here was Mensing’s character; a twitchy despot that can’t keep her mouth shut and continues to pop up at the most inopportune moments, her insufferable personality oozing out into the ether. She was irksome and agitating, but Colvin and Martin held their own in the ring of antagonizing, taking their hysterics to the maximum melodramatic potential in spite of the interrupting waitress.

Business Lunch at the Russian Tea Room

A simple playwright, Chris (Frederick Henderson ) — in the voice of Durang himself— being thrust into the world of a slightly deranged Hollywood producer, Melissa (Lilly Kerrigan). And all thanks to the meddling ways of his jaded agent, Margaret (Damia Torhagen). Henderson didn’t get much of a role here, other than sticking to his guns solidly and determining that Hollywood sellouts are not for him. Kerrigan was the thunder driving the action in this performance. She was the epitome of a Hollywood nightmare, sucked into the drama of it all while being narcissistic and slightly neurotic. Her speech had a hyper quality to it that just drove home her insanity, with crazy lit eyes to match, making this one good goofy jaunt into the lives of screenwriters and playwrights alike.

The Hardy Boys & The Mystery of Where Babies Come From

This was by far the funniest of the six presented. The Hardy Boys, Frank (Henderson) and Joey (Joseph Michael Jones) were the epitome of sniveling rugrat babies with prepubescent high-pitched whiny voices. They turned this play into a farcical exploit of sexual innuendo and dirty jokes. Henderson had an extremely whiny voice and his naiveté was uproarious. Paired against Jones’s physical comedy the pair made for one riotous performance. The blatant jokes that just soared over their heads made this play priceless. And let’s not forget Nurse Ratched (Lynn Ritland) a creepy cougar on the prowl that just took this production to the next level of ridiculousness.

Frederick Henderson and Joseph Michael Jones (The Hardy Boys). Photo by  Arturo Tolentino.

Frederick Henderson and Joseph Michael Jones (The Hardy Boys). Photo by Arturo Tolentino.

1-900-Desperate

Gretchen (Torhagen) is a spastic little oddball who is neurotic and alone. And desperate enough to call into 1-900-Desperate; a chat line for desperate singles. Where she then encounters Scuzzy (Bru Ajueyitsi) a rather sleazy sex-driven prowler on the line. The hysterics ensue as Torhagen’s character freaks out on the phone and then convinces herself that she’s not perhaps as crazy as we think she is. Her performance was fantastic because each of these episodes that she breaks out into are translated physically with vivid facial animations to match. I fell out of my  chair laughing so hard as Jones makes a cameo as little 5-year-old Billy, who has also dialed into the line.

Medea

This melodramatic performance is unlike any rendition of Medea you’ve ever seen. Playing the title character is Gayle Carney and she captivated the audience with her uniquely inspired body language, heavily interpreting all of her woes into gestures. The insanity of being caught up in Medea’s headspace translated into Carney’s performance throughout, between the grief and fury, tied into the modern references cleverly placed by Durang in her dialogue. The lines she delivered relating to Private Lives were hilarious and she tells it like it is for everything else. Comprising the bitchy and slightly modern Greek chorus were Dena Colvin, Alanna Mensing, Cristen Stephansky, and Damia Torhagen; together these four girls had the perfect pattern for speaking in unison and added another layer of rich comedy to the whacky play.

Nina In The Morning

This is the one that fell off the wagon in regards to comedy. There were hilarious aspects but mostly it was just strange. Nina (Julie Harris) is a lunatic prissy princess who is so haughty she believes even the laws of physics are beneath her. Alanna Mensing narrated the epic tragic downfall of Harris’s character, with an aloof and fond air as if the story were once hers to tell. Harris played up the lubricity of her character, going so far as to attempt to seduce her own children, and it all just went downhill from there.

The performances in Deranged Durang: Six Short Plays By Christopher Durang were about as deranged as the playwright, but for the most part there was a good deal of comedy floating around in the mix. The performers continued to demonstrate their comedic abilities, particularly in regards to physical comedy and comic timing, making this an overall hilarious outing.

Running Time: Approximately one hour and 20 minutes, with no intermission.

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Deranged Durang: Six Short Plays By Christopher Durang ended its run on March 10, 2013 at The National Conservatory of Dramatic Arts — 1556 Wisconsin Avenue NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets call (202) 333-2202.

 

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