Durang in Shorts
Also see Rob's review of The Men of Mah Jongg
This summer, the Desert Rose Playhouse is featuring "Durang in Shorts - All Summer, All Christopher Durang Plays" (according to their programs). Durang's work was particularly popular in the 1980s, and features "outrageous and often absurd comedy" (according to Wikipedia). "Outrageous" and "absurd" are certainly fitting descriptors, and at some points during the opening weekend performance I attended those words almost seemed too mild.
Durang in Shorts is not your typical production: it is a conglomeration of five short, one-act plays and one short film, directed by four different directors. Each member of the ensemble cast appears in almost every piece. The set is minimal, featuring at most a dressing table, a couch, and perhaps a two-person dining set. The costumes are well done but not elaborate.
The absurdist comedy features such themes as murder, incest, vanity, sacrilege, greed, and a fair share of sexual jokes. In some of the shorts it is difficult to tell if one should be amused, disgusted or offended. Maybe Durang was going for a combination of the three. Perhaps with a larger audience the humor would have been better received, but many of the cracks were met with only a few tense chuckles. Rather then finding them funny, I mostly pitied the characters, whose strange lives are tumultuous and sad. Between two of the pieces, while some of the actors rearranged the set, others entertained the audience by dancing the YMCA. This interlude could have fit better with the absurdist nature of the whole thing if it weren't for the part where the actors pulled unsuspecting audience members up on stage to dance with them. I suspect this is a bit of poor directing; such a move would work well for a children's production, but the adults seemed more embarrassed than anything. Speaking of children, don't bring yours to this production.
The actors' performances are mostly unimpressive. At the performance I attended, there were so many missed cues and breaks of character in one of the pieces that it started to look more like an improv show than one that has been through weeks of rehearsals. On the more impressive side, Joshua Ball stands out with his expressiveness and humor, although his character in each of the shorts is basically the same: quick-witted guy exasperated with the silly people surrounding him. He is often the anchor character with whom the audience can identify and wonder along with him, what is wrong with these people? Lydia Martinez does a fine job playing the bright-eyed, near-deaf, somewhat ditzy female guest in the short For Whom the Southern Belle Tolls, Durang's parody of The Glass Menagerie.
By far, the strongest performance of the show comes from Catalina; while she makes a perfectly funny Southern "mama" in For Whom the Southern Belle Tolls, she absolutely nails it as the self-obsessed, multi-tasking, money-on-the-mind Hollywood movie producer in the final piece, Business Lunch at the Russian Tearoom. She struts around with ease in sparkling high heels. "I love caviar," she says. "Not the taste, exactly, but the sense of status it gives me. It's like going to the bank and eating your money." Durang's writing is funniest in this last piece, and Catalina's delivery is spot on. I would have watched an entire play about that character, and probably would have laughed a lot more.
Durang in Shorts is playing at the Desert Rose Playhouse, 6921 Montgomery Boulevard NE, Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00pm and Sundays at 2:00pm. Tickets are $12 general and $10 students, seniors, and Albuquerque Theatre Guild members. To reserve tickets call 881-0503.