Regional Reviews: St. Louis
Why Torture is Wrong
Also see Bob's review of The Diary of Anne Frank
Brooke Edwards plays the modern American young woman (Felicity) who wakes up, shocked to find she's in bed with a stranger, possibly a terroristand, in fact, married to same. She and Adam Flores (Zamir) are funny in that well-worn "ethnic mismatch" sort of way, made new by Flores' rough-and-ready comedic approach. He's volatile and voluble, and she's the classic screwball dame nicely updated, standing on principle, and slipping on her own banana peels. It's magic.
The rest of the cast is full of surprises: Whit Reichert does an outstanding job as the ex-military dad, thoroughly subverting his many years on stage as a cuddly, sweet old teddy bear. As Leonard, he starts out like a typical Reichert plush toy, but develops startling new dimensions as his suspicions grow, regarding his new son-in-law. All those years I spent watching him play Santa Claus have finally paid off.
As the mom, the great Kari Eli is the forest and the stars and the ocean, merely in a supporting role. Dressed like Donna Reed, she bubbles with all the latest chatter about the Broadway stage, playing verbal tennis with a racket made by Ionesco. And then there's her horrifying, momentary break-down, as sudden as a summer storm, and stunning in its realization. Marty Stanberry directs, I should mention, and though I'll never really know how he did it, you can credit him for putting this cast together, and for the good time.
G.P. Hunsaker is excellent as the porn producer who may or may not be able to help Felicity and Zamir out of their troubles, and Jenn Bock is sweetly odd as an unlikely femme fatale, a former Texas debutante who can't keep her code names straight, or her lacey underwear from falling to her ankles. She manages to be endearing, nonetheless, but some of Mr. Durang's comedy, as those red panties prove, is a smidgen too broad.
Mostly, though, his script is a dazzling bit of nonsense mixed with startling social commentary, taking steady aim at the mind-set of the frantic, confabulating Fox News audience, and blowing it out of the water again and again. There's even a nod to screwball director Preston Sturges, with a reference to his great old movie The Miracle of Morgan's Creek, which ought to be good for an award of some kind.
And then there's that little matter of radical Islam. Zamir, himself, isn't a terrorist but (as they say) he'll do until a real one comes along: the diminutive Mr. Flores makes him smooth and reasonable at one moment, then choking on rage and astonishment the next, threatening all kinds of violence, though the average American woman would probably take him in one round (the average American woman, I am reliably told, is a size 14, though Ms. Edwards couldn't possibly be more than a four, and Mr. Flores is barely bantam-weight). Sure, Zamir may be an emotional terrorist, but is that really a crime?
Mr. Durang comes up with a good, unsettling way of approaching the issue of smoldering international grievances: early on, he lays the seeds of a narrator's voice in the comedy (Jordan Reinwald), and now and then Felicity can actually hear him speak. And, in these "in-and-out" moments from the narrative, a second rhythm develops, and she's finally able to master itstopping the action and changing the course of the play herself. But each time she steers the narrative back to moderation, things veer right back to mayhem. But who knows? Maybe it's nothing a trip to a glittering little nightclub known as "Hooters" can't cure.
Through February 27, 2010, at the Kranzberg Center (Grand & Washington, one block south of the Fox). For information call (314) 289-4060 or visit them online at www.hotcitytheatre.org.
* Denotes member, Actors Equity Association