Wednesday, March 30, 2005

The world laughs with you

Durang play is on the boards

Express Staff Writer

Jonathon Kane and Jana Arnold appear in "Laughing Wild" at nexStage Theatre.

Tuna fish can drive anyone crazy. The woman in Christopher Durang's play "Laughing Wild" goes crazy just trying to reach it in a supermarket aisle. A man is blocking her way. So she slugs him. Natch.

What a way to start. Equally so for Off Center Stage, a new theater group in the valley. Their debut production, "Laughing Wild" is being staged at nexStage Theatre in Ketchum, and is made possible by the Producing Partners Program of the Sun Valley Performing Arts/nexStage Theatre.

The play features Jana Arnold as a desperate, erratic, often hospitalized woman and Jonathon Kane as a confused, neurotic man who struggles to live in a modern world. They are directed by Kathy Ogilvy.

Jon Kane, a long time resident of the valley and a native New Yorker, has been involved with theater most of his adult life. His own production company is Interplanetary Theatre Group, which has presented many staged readings and plays in the valley.

"He brought the play to us," Ogilvy said. "We read many men in the valley and elsewhere for the role of 'man' and ended up coming back to Jon. The role is just written for him."

Arnold and Ogilvy come directly from film and theater backgrounds in Southern California. Ogilvy has been a professional stage manger for shows at such venues as Santa Clara Repertory, Mark Taper Forum, Coronet Theatre, Center Theatre Group, Six Flags/Time Warner, and Universal Studios, among others.

Arnold, a professional Equity actress, has been seen in such television shows as "E.R.," "Men Behaving Badly," "Sisters," "L.A. Law," and "Murphy Brown," in which she was the nurse who stayed with Candace Bergen throughout the baby's birth. Arnold was a featured player in three feature films and during her career on stage won four DramaLogue Awards, a regional theater award for excellence.

Their inaugural show marks a departure in their professional lives. Ogilvy is directing for the first time. Since they moved to the valley last year, she has been the stage manager for several Laughing Stock Productions. She has also been the stage manager for the Sun Valley Shakespeare Festival for four years.

"We've gotten to know all the acting people in town," Arnold said. "It's what we came to do. We're not doing this play to be safe.

The play is broken into exceptionally bizarre monologues and dream sequences that bring the characters together. Durang, one of the talented satirists of American theater, manages to capture the frantic, neurotic energy of the 1980s when tax cuts for the rich and greed-is-good were the credo of the day. With empathy, the play tells the personal stories of two people trying to come to terms with a life both frightening and beguiling.

The woman claims to be "Laughing wild amid severest woe," a line from a Samuel Beckett play. It's this concept that both gives the play its title while describing its meld of poignancy and comedy. (In turn, Beckett was quoting poet Thomas Gray.)

"I love this woman," Arnold said. "She says all the things I wish I could say. Basically she says anything that comes into her mind."

The play's first act is broken into two monologues. The woman's monologue is full of hilarious, digressional rants. The man is a neurotic nebbish yearning to maintain a sketchy positive outlook. Interspersed with brilliant observations and affirmations, he tries to comprehend getting bonked on the head at a market by an insane woman after he was focusing on the tuna fish cans to ignore her stares.

The final act recreates the tuna fish incident in a myriad of ways, as the characters try to make sense of their chance encounter.

Created by a madman of the theater, "Laughing Wild" keeps pace with Durang's better known plays, including "Sister Mary Ignatius Explains it all for You," "The Marriage of Betty and Boo," "Betty's Summer Vacation," "Beyond Therapy" and "The Actor's Nightmare."

First produced in 1987, by Playwrights Horizons in New York City, Durang himself played the man. Through the years, the play has become more popular, perhaps as audiences have become removed from the issues of the day ridiculed in the piece. Critics have always liked Durang, a graduate of Yale Drama School.

"Christopher Durang is one of the funniest men in the world, able to make the audience laugh time and time again, taking us by surprise with his one-of-a-kind jokes and his relentless bitter satire," wrote Edith Oliver of The New Yorker.

"I'm having a blast," Arnold said, giggling and then suddenly laughing wild. Really wild.

"Laughing Wild"

Off Center Stage presents "Laughing Wild" by Christopher Durang at the nexStage Theatre in Ketchum at 8 p.m., Thursday, April 7 through Sunday, April 10 and Thursday, April 14 through Sunday, April 17. $15 available at Rare Finds, 111 W. Myrtle in Hailey or 726-4tks.

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