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Acting a Fool

A contemporary playwright takes on the classics

Melissa O'Brien (left) and Nicole Reynolds suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.`

By Rebecca Fishbein | Posted 6/16/2010

Duranged Nights

Written by Christopher Durang

Through June 26 at the Mobtown Theater at Meadow Mill

Serious theater may be a staple of sophisticated culture, but to the always outrageous playwright Christopher Durang, sometimes prominent plays are a little better when dirtied up. This is the theme of Duranged Nights, two awesomely absurd one-act Durang plays performed by the Mobtown Players. The plays poke fun at prominent works from Shakespeare, Noel Coward, Tennessee Williams, Samuel Beckett, and Robert Bolt, reminding the audience that in the theater world, sanity is up for grabs.

Based on Williams' The Glass Menagerie, the first play, "For Whom the Southern Belle Tolls," follows Southern housewife Amanda (Kerry Brady) as she tries to set up her eccentric son Lawrence (Timothy Dillon) with one of her other son Tom's (Brian Kraszewski) co-workers, Ginny (Melissa O'Brien). Lawrence, a stand-in for the mentally handicapped Laura in Williams' original, walks with an affected limp; believes he ails from a multitude of illnesses, including asthma and eczema; and devotes his time to polishing his glass swizzle-stick collection. Tom prefers to spend his evenings escaping to the movies and reading gay porn. Ginny, a chipper, half-deaf warehouse worker, is bent on improving herself with public speaking classes. Matriarch Amanda has a harder, less sentimental edge in Durang's version. The bizarre bunch clash in a series of entertaining and bizarre interactions that include satirical soliloquies and jokes about homosexuality and homophobia.

"The Actor's Nightmare," the second play, opens with the introduction of George (Dillon), an accountant who discovers he is supposed to be standing in for the role of an ailing lead actor. George has never attended a rehearsal, and knows neither what lines he is supposed to say, nor which play he is supposed to be performing. Somehow he is thrown into a peculiar mishmash of Coward's Private Lives, Shakespeare's Hamlet, a combination of several Beckett plays, and Bolt's A Man for All Seasons. As George fumbles through scene after scene, he is flanked by fictional, famed dramatic actress Sarah Siddons (O'Brien) and the less hammy Ellen Terry (Brady), as well as Meg the Stage Manager (Nicole Reynolds) and Shakespearean actor Henry Irving (Kraszewski). Interwoven into the surrealist dream is a subplot in which George laments not going into the monastery after his high school graduation, a running commentary that comes to a head--literally--during the doomed Sir Thomas Moore-centric Seasons.

Both plays are frequently funny, taking on the particular plays they were aimed at with respect as well as humor. "Southern Belle" plays with the stagnant Southern life portrayed by Williams in Menagerie, and mocks main character Tom's drawn-out commentary with a wink. "The Actor's Nightmare" capitalizes on Coward's portrayals of excess, doles out a heavy dose of Shakespearean meter, and plays along with Beckett's absurdist bent.

The actors are equally entertaining, particularly Brady and Dillon. Brady is the one to watch in Southern Belle as the formidable Amanda, and is hilarious in the second play when portraying a bowler hat-clad, metaphor-spewing Beckett creation. Dillon is adorable as the dashing, driving force in "The Actor's Nightmare," and though he mumbles through some of his early lines as Lawrence in "Southern Belle," he redeems himself by the play's conclusion.

Duranged Nights is funny, but infrequent playgoers, beware: Both one-acts are geared towards those in the know. If you haven't seen The Glass Menagerie or aren't into Coward, Shakespeare, or Beckett, chances are you'll miss out on most of the jokes. Consider hitting SparkNotes before heading to Mobtown Theater to brush up on some of the basics. That way, you'll get the humor's full effect.

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