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For the week of Mar. 22 through Mar. 28, 2000

Laughing Stock gets Durang-ed

Four plays by Christopher Durang at NexStage add up to "a fun house," the playwright says in an interview

Christopher Durang, Playwright

"There has to be some psychological truth to even the most crazy things I do."
- Christopher Durang, playwright (photo by Joan Marcus)








Gordon Noice, Director

"It’s bold. It’s broad. It’s over the top."
- Gordon Noice, director (photo by David N. Seelig)







Express Staff Writer

"Insanity," wrote psychiatrist R. D. Laing, "is a perfectly rational adjustment to an insane world."

In Four Play, the four one act plays by Christopher Durang presented by Laughing Stock Theatre Company this week, insanity is a perfectly rational and hilarious adjustment to an insane world.

The plays, ‘Dentity Crisis, Wanda’s Visit, Diversions and The Actor’s Nightmare, are vintage Durang: comic exaggerations of psychological truths.

"The plays are like a fun house," said Durang in a telephone interview from his home in New York City, where he teaches playwriting at the Juilliard School. "They reflect something truthful, but they distort it and have fun with it."

Laughing Stock presents the Durang one-acts Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 5 p.m. at NexStage Theater in Ketchum.

Durang has been providing theater audiences with unruly laughter and outlandish entertainment since he was an 18-year-old freshman at Harvard in 1967.

Now 51, he has earned the title—bestowed by theater critics like the New Yorker’s Edith Oliver—funniest playwright alive.

Besides his many Obie-award winning plays and performances, Durang has received a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Rockefeller Fellowship, the CBS Playwriting Fellowship and the Kenyon Festival Theatre Playwriting prize. In 1995, he won the prestigious three-year Lila Wallace Readers Digest Writers Award.

"I’ve never read a playwright that made me laugh until I cried until I read Durang," said the director of Four Play, Gordon Noice.

Noice, who played Sykes in Laughing Stock’s November production of Oliver, is a film, television and stage actor who moved here recently from Los Angeles.

"Durang’s work has an edge, and I appreciate that," he added. "It affirms my passion for doing theater."

Durang’s edgy comedy is a bit of a departure from Oliver, but like Oliver it has serious psychological underpinnings.

"Durang takes elements of the human condition, as dark as they may be, and forces us to laugh at ourselves," said Noice. "And laughter is the best medicine that we have. It’s been proven clinically to heal."

Some may question if Durang wanted to heal or just to disturb when the drama ensues with an incestuous relationship (‘Dentity Crisis), a suicidal father and a bizarre nun (Diversions), a troubled marriage (Wanda’s Visit) and a tortured accountant (The Actor’s Nightmare).

"I honestly don’t want to upset audiences," said Durang, whose acerbic play Betty’s Summer Vacation caused many to walk out when it was performed off Broadway last year. The play also won the prestigious Obie award.

Durang compared his humor to the sketch comedy of the Carol Burnett Show and to "Monty Python without the random craziness."

Echoing that comparison, Noice said the one-acts are "like sitcoms gone terribly awry."

‘Dentity Crisis, about a girl who has been diagnosed as mentally ill but who is surrounded by even more deranged family members, was inspired by a book about schizophrenia.

"The book was filled with intriguing case studies," Durang said. "It included people in their 20s or teens who weren’t able to function in the world. I found that the families were so crazy that the patient’s reaction to the family wasn’t wrong."

‘Dentity Crisis, like the other plays, contains real psychology presented in cartoon form, Durang said.

Some 20 locals, ranging in age from 17 to 70, interpret those cartoonish characters. There are familiar actors—Scott Creighton, Kathy Wygle, Patty Parsons, Claudia McCain and Patricia Conwell—and some faces that have never been on a local stage before—Katie Orr, Rebecca Haithcoat, Hans Ibold and Lindi Schooley.

Other cast members include Dean Cerutti, Dana DuGan, Michael Lanzarone, Toby Wilson, Kim Harrison, Sarah Hjort, Sam Parker, Joe Marshall, John Sack, Noah Richter and Mandie O’Connell.

Noice said Durang’s one-acts provide the perfect material to get locals, most of them 20- and 30-somethings, involved in community theater.

"We have a mix of professional actors, community theater people and neophytes," Noice said. "And everybody is uplifting each other in the process. I didn’t expect community theater to be this rewarding."

Is Noice worried about anyone walking out on Durang’s dark humor?

"If I have one person who walks out and I’ve forced that person to look inside themselves, then I’ll be happy," he said. "If you’re willing to laugh at yourself and at your friends and neighbors on stage, then this is for you."

The plays run under two hours. Refreshments will be available at the theater.

Tickets, at $13, are available at Chapter One and at the door.


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