It’s certainly one for the books. Six books in fact, well six plays, anyhow. Fells Point Corner Theatre kicks off the 2013/2014 season with Christopher Durang’s Durang Durang, six of his short plays all bundled into one tight package of sheer tomfoolery and awkward moments. Directed by Andrew Porter, these six shorts take the audience on an adventure to find the ‘Dramamine in drama’ which they might just need before all is said and done. The zany, irreverent, twisted tales keep the characters rooted in these stories but also make things a little disturbing for all who are watching.
Tackling six semi-full-length plays for any director is a challenging project and for first time Director Andrew Porter there were some bumps along the way, but overall a vehemently valiant effort was made to tame the beast that is Durang and his ludicrous plays. Porter’s biggest struggle was the overall pacing and timing of the show. Running close to three hours the individual plays drag out in places, especially during the first act. Porter added creative, but unnecessary length to the show during scene changes, executing fully choreographed (by Sandra Atkinson) company dance numbers and a sing-along to move furniture around. While Atkinson’s interpretive dance moments look visually intriguing they feel out of place with the already absurd nature of the show.
Porter maintains an interesting balance among his cast, making some bold and effective choices in some cases and some choices that are questionable in others. At times his ideas were simplistic, letting the work speak for itself, like during For Whom the Southern Belle Tolls. Porter’s concept here was crisp and sharp even if the play itself dragged along a bit slower than was reasonable for the jokes to properly land. Other instances like “Nina in the Morning” were convoluted and bogged down with excess. In this case Porter incorporated a lone puppet as Nina, despite having the voice actress on stage. The puppets limited movements were not synchronized with the vocalizations, and the actress portraying Nina (Megan Farber) sounded like she was trying too hard to be noticed, stealing the attention from the ill-executed puppetry.
The production had some successes and triumphs, Nina in the Morning did have a terribly engaging silent character in the maid (Beverly Shannon) who stole the scene with her saucy flitting about dusting the wall fixtures while everyone was talking. Shannon, who performed in For Whom the Southern Belle Tolls was vivacious and charming as the Amanda character, an absolute riot and keen understanding of how to deliver biting barbs at her crippled son Lawrence (Christopher L. Hamilton). Shannon, taking on the role of the lusty incestuous sister in A Stye of the Eye was again a vibrant character on the stage, stealing everyone’s attention when she began her wild and tantric moments of awkward passion with her brother Jake/Frankie (Alex Smith).
Smith, another well-placed and compelling actor on the stage gave an uproarious rendition as the two brothers in A Stye of the Eye, flipping back and forth to have a conversation with himself. His emotions were bombastic and wildly entertaining, both characters clearly distinguished from one another. While A Stye of the Eye didn’t work as a whole because the pacing was slow and there was no character difference between the grotesque ‘Ma’ in this play and ‘Ginny’ in the previous play, Smith managed to hold down the fort in tandem with Shannon. Smith took a page from Shannon’s scene-stealing book and during Business Lunch at the Russian Tea Room became the central focus as the flamboyant waiter with a chip on his shoulder.
“Business Lunch at the Russian Tea Room” was the most effective of the six productions performed, with Shannon, Smith, and Lonnie DeVaughan Simmons working together to create a volatile chemistry in a pseudo reality. Simmons, having cameos in earlier plays, presented a well rounded calm and down to earth character (meant to be Durang himself) against the spastic Hollywood Movie Maker (played by Shannon) and the melodramatic but mostly silent waiter. Simmons also made his presence and comic timing known in A Stye of the Eye by simply standing and uttering a few lines; an attempt to refocus that production.
There were blocking issues that created awkwardness on the stage especially for A Stye of the Eye but Porter also had moments where his blocking worked extremely well. Wanda’s Visit involved the three characters being consistently packed close together, which truly drew the focus of Wanda (Megan Farber) as an inconvenience. Farber’s performance was way too over the top, even for the cracked craze of a character and needed more direction from Porter to be a success. Marsha (Caroline C. Kiebach) however was delicately balanced and had little explosive moments that made this production really amusing.
Durang Durang’s six shows have their redeeming moments, and it is an accomplishment to have them all performed in one evening.
Running Time: Approximately two hours and 45 minutes, with one intermission.
Durang Durang plays through October 13, 2013 at Fells Point Corner Theatre— 251 S. Ann Street in Fells Point in Baltimore, MD. For tickets call the box office at (410) 276-7837, or purchase them online.