Colonial Players current production of Christopher Durang’s Why Torture is Wrong and The People Who Love Them is an affectionate treatment of a wondrously wacky, life-enriching masterwork. Durang’s dark comedy that premiered on Broadway in 2009 remains timely in its sardonic take on a segment of society’s addiction to violence and guns, and widespread paranoia that tolerated injustices in the name of national security echoes today as touted by a dozen presidential hopefuls vying to be chosen as candidates in the upcoming 2016 Presidential election.
In his illuminating Director’s Notes, Kristofer Kauff informs that although the “title elicits thoughts of 9/11 and the war on terror, government spying, protesting, religious extremism, etc., there is much more to this brilliantly written story.” Director Kauff exploits with finesse a myriad of Durang’s comic, cogent insights in this production that is graced by skilled comic actors who become a collection of outlandish characters who will bring audiences to frequent sustained laughter at their stage antics and perhaps at themselves as well.
Helping to bring this scintillating comedy to life is Set Designer Terry Averill, former Colonial Players President and professional Annapolis architect who again creates a prize-worthy set that quickly transforms from hotel bedroom to family kitchen to attic hideaway complete with a trapdoor revealing a hidden torture area. Assisting in building this elaborate, smoothly functional set is a team of skilled carpenters headed by Dick Whaley.
The Colonial Players’ favorite young actress Sarah Wade proves equal to a new challenge as costume designer, helping define actor’s identity by appropriate, often outlandish costumes. Admired veteran Colonial Players Costume Designer Beth Terranova now serves skillfully as Assistant Director to Kauff. Exemplary lighting design is by Wes Bedsworth, and expert sound design is by Kaelynn Miller.
Why Torture..” begins with young woman named Felicity finding herself in a cheap hotel room with an unknown man who she discovers is called Zamir whom she has married the night before in an impromptu ceremony at Hooter’s. When questioned by Felicity, the self-described “Irishman” Zamir, who is without property or income, mentions midnight errands involving money hidden under rocks, and describes a tendency toward violence explained as “It’s a flaw in my character, but all the women in my family are dead.”
Suspecting she may be the victim of date rape drugs and after trying unsuccessfully to persuade Zamir to consider an annulment, Felicity agrees to accompany Zamir to New Jersey to meet her wealthy parents. The scene shifts to Felicity’s parents’ kitchen, where her mother Luella, preoccupied with her unreal world of theater absorbs the news of her daughter’s marriage by extending an invitation to her prepared French toast breakfast. Felicity’s father Leonard arrives and becomes outraged at Felicity’s getting married without informing him before growing so enraged that he points a gun at Zamir.
Thus begins an interchange where Luella babbles about random theater performances she has enjoyed while political extremist Leonard harangues over terrorist threats to homeland and also to his home address. A desperate Felicity shares her suspicions that she may be married to a terrorist, asking father’s help in obtaining an annulment. Leonard immediately accepts the mission while Felicity searches for clues about Zamir to extricate herself from her frightening situation.
Action moves with style and wit delivered by a stellar cast anchored by Felicity played by Diane Samuelson in a noteworthy Colonial Players debut where she establishes palpable rapport with Pat Reynolds’ Zamir and proves a strong ensemble player in easy interaction with Jean Berard’s Luella, Richard Fiske’s Leonard and with Jason Vaughan’s Reverend Mike, an outlandish practicing minister who makes pornographic movies to supplement his income.
A favorite actor in his many Colonial Players performances, Pat Reynolds again amazes as Zamir, barely recognizable to this long-time fan as the brutish, bearded Zamir. Gradually Reynolds’ Zamir expresses a gamut of emotions ranging from defensive oaf to stalwart victim of enhanced interrogation that includes being repeatedly beaten into a false confession of intentions to deliver a terrorist attack and his later transformative climactic scene where Zamir hesitantly describes his unfortunate youthful environment to Felicity.
Jean Berard returns after brightening several memorable Colonial Players productions including last season’s Dead Man’s Cell Phone to deliver a near-flawless Luella complete with a gentle lunacy that hints at her obsession with theater being her retreat from the reality of an unhappy marriage that might include her husband’s abuse. The result is a show-stealing performance where Berard masterfully babbles a string of non sequiturs describing remembered theatrical performances growing from amusing to hilarious.
Veteran actor Richard Fiske becomes Felicity’s father, Leonard in a multi-dimensional portrayal that encompasses a number of political extremities from paranoid defense of hearth to admiration of such news figures as the incapacitated Terry Schiavo, who he describes as “the ideal wife,” along with reflecting is dysfunctional relationship with daughter Felicity that he tries to mend by assuming characteristics of actor Robert Young’s Father Knows Best. Fiske’s Leonard reveals frightening dimensions as he subjects Reynolds‘ Zamir to his version of enhanced interrogation that elevates his extremism to near lunacy before his climactic surprising twist.
Debuting at Colonial Players as Leonard’s undercover assistant in dealing with suspected terrorists, Hildegarde is fabulous find Chaseedaw Giles whose agent Hildegard is afflicted with underwear that keeps dropping to her ankles. Delivering every line with comedic perfection, Giles steals every scene she graces.
Also making a strong debut is Ruben Vellekoop in dual roles as Narrator and Voice spouting Loony Tunes commentary.
Skillfully adding absurdity is returning actor Jason Vaughan, who is delighted to be “typecast again as a former drug-dealing man-of-God who makes dirty movies” in his adroit portrayal of Reverend Mike.
Not only is Why Torture… an uproariously amusing evening of theater, it builds to a surprise climax that takes us to another realm in a scene where couples dance and begin to appreciate each other’s strengths to gain mutual respect. Who could ask for more than this uproariously hilarious comedy that offers an illuminating subtext that may well become life-enriching.
Running Time: Two hours and 15 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.
Why Torture is Wrong and The People Who Love Them plays through June 20, 2015 at The Colonial Players – 108 East Street, in Annapolis, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (410) 268-7373, or purchase them online.