It's vulgar; it's funny; it's thought-provoking. It's Christopher Durang's Betty's Summer Vacation. There aren't many times in life when you feel like laughing out loud at incest, rape, and dismemberment. I feel guilty even saying that, but laugh I did, along with the rest of the not-quite-sellout crowd last night at the Pittsburgh Public Theatre. We were really laughing at ourselves - today's society of armchair voyeurs who gobble up every scandalous morsel TV and the tabloids can serve up to us about whatever is the shocking story of the day. As I overheard while leaving the theatre, "Well, they sure made their point." Yes, they did, and we were willing students.
Betty thought it would be fun and relaxing to make a cottage-share at the shore her escape from the city. Little did she know that her cottage mates would include: Trudy, non-stop talker and sexual abuse survivor; Keith, mysterious drone, never far from his head-sized hat box and shovel; Buck, insatiable stud who goes though flavored condoms by the dozen; and Mrs. Siezmagraff, Trudy's emotionally abusive mother who enjoys having a compulsive flasher as a date. Did I mention the voices in the ceiling who laugh, comment, cajole and relish in the entertainment provided by our little cast? This is one of those plays that defies description, especially without spoiling the fun.
This production boasts a fine cast and well done sets, although the big transition to the last scene was impressive, but excruciatingly slow. My only quibble is that most of the topical references seemed a bit dated -- at today's rate of aging, that means the references were of events a couple of years old. The point would have had even more punch had the characters referred to recent media circus events like Elian and Columbine. The O'Reilly Theater is a beauty, though some of the audience members would have missed a bit of the action had they not been able to move into vacant seats with better sight lines.
There had been more than enough warnings ("If you are planning to bring the kids, don't") and naughty teasers ("Promiscuity. Exhibitionism. Voyeurism. Do you want to watch?") in the local media, which helped to provide an audience that really appreciated this thought-provoking dark comedy.
Betty's Summer Vacation by Christopher Durang. Directed by Munson Hicks. Scenic design by Richard Chambers. Costume design by Mariann Verheyen. Lighting design by Rita Pietraszek. Sound design by James Capenos. Starring Deirdre Madigan (Betty), Helen Coxe (Trudy), Mark Fish (Keith), Garrett McKechnie (Buck), Pamela Dunlap (Mrs. Siezmagraff), Edmond Genest (Mr. Vanislaw), Mark Enright, Elizabeth Flax, and Brad Bellamy (Voices 1, 2, and 3).
Theatre: O'Reilly Theatre, Penn Avenue, downtown Pittsburgh for the Pittsburgh Public Theatre.
Running time: 2 hours with one 15 minute intermission
Schedule: Tuesday through Saturday at 8 PM, Sunday at 2 PM and 7 PM; 2 p.m. May 13, 18 and 20.
Ticket prices: $18 to $40
Ticket information: Call (412) 316-1600.