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BWW Reviews: DURANGED NIGHTS: A Hoot and a Half at Mobtown

Perhaps there is a bit of deeper meaning in the savage humor that informs the two Christopher Durang plays Mobtown Players have paired as "Duranged Nights." But enjoyment of them certainly does not require a philosophical bent, or indeed much else except a little working knowledge of the English-language theater and a sense of humor. To get the most out For Whom the Southern Belle Tolls (1994), the curtain-raiser, you basically want to be vaguely familiar with The Glass Menagerie. The Actor's Nightmare (1981) hopes you know at least Private Lives, Hamlet, Waiting for Godot, Endgame, and A Man for All Seasons. But fear not; if these classics are for some reason beyond your ken, Durang has left plenty of explanatory material. You will still understand enough to laugh plenty.

Southern Belle essentially asks the question: what if Tennessee Williams hadn't had to be so coy writing about gay subjects? What if he hadn't felt compelled to disguise homosexuality in a thousand ways, such as neurasthenia, or disease, or solitariness? It asks the question by taking all the tropes Williams had relied upon to tiptoe around the subject in his most famous play, and subverting them. Durang has half the four-member cast living in that world of metaphor, and half in the more direct world in which we (and the other two members of the cast) live today. The collision between these two modes of dramatic presentation makes Williams look pretty lame and Durang look pretty funny.

The most conspicuous example: the opposite-sex caller whose call does not and cannot lead to romance. Here Laura is Lawrence (Timothy Dillon), cursed with lameness, eczema, and an obsessive focus on a collection of glass swizzle sticks (living in a deliberately overplayed world of Williamsian metaphor), while the caller is Ginny (Melissa O'Brien), outrageously cheerful, outrageously out, and completely unsuitable for Lawrence. Meanwhile Amanda (Kerry Brady) tries genteelly to look the other way from pretty much everything - again a typical Williams device, while Tom (Brian S. Kraszewski) is out there explicitly and unapologetically picking up sailors at porno movie houses.

Durang believes, I think, that metaphors like neurasthenia fail dramatically if they are not convincing on their own terms - and that Laura's was - and Lawrence's is just ridiculous. And the upbeat gayness of both Ginny and Tom brings in question the necessity not only for the avoidance practiced by Amanda and Tom, but also for the avoidance practiced by Tennessee Williams as he wrote his plays.

It sounds a little ponderous in the description, but it is really a half a hoot. It would be a whole hoot if it only lasted about five minutes fewer. Brevity is often the soul of wit.

There's no such problem with The Actor's Nightmare, which rates, if you will, a complete hoot. Here there is not even a satirical point, just a wonderful multifaceted exploration of one terrifying joke: the actor's version of the universal nightmare that we are called upon to perform some difficult and public task without having prepared in any way or remembering that we were ever told we were supposed to prepare. For actors, that nightmare takes the form of performing in an unrehearsed play.

Protagonist George Spelvin (Timothy Dillon again), who thinks he is not even an actor but an accountant in his "real" life finds himself onstage, unable to account for his own arrival there. Shortly thereafter, through the rapid entrances and exits of a stage manager (Nicole Reynolds) and various other actors (Brady, Krazewski, and O'Brien once more), he learns that he is expected to go on in five minutes. And then the play starts. And he is on. Only is he acting Elyot in Private Lives? Or Prince Hamlet? Or then again, one of the characters in garbage cans in Endgame? Most ominously, might he be Sir Thomas More in A Man for All Seasons? Whatever he's challenged to act at the moment, he seems to be doing it all wrong, piling up a huge karmic deficit, as he cycles rapidly through his stage lives.

That debt seems about ready to be repaid as, with the last role, George's identity threatens to change from that of a dreamer, guaranteed of awakening, to that of an unwilling character in a play written by someone else. (Can you say Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern?) That character is Thomas More facing the headsman's axe. Funny as the predicament may be, we are all glad to be on our own side of the footlights at that juncture.

It would be hard to overpraise this cast. Durang writes one-acts with the intent more than one will be performed at a time, and that actors will double up on roles. But in Nightmare all actors besides the performer who tackles Spelvin must do three or four. So by the end of an evening of this, we've seen costume changes, accent changes, and completely varying mannerisms out of each of them. Mobtown has assembled an ensemble who do this without breaking a perceptible sweat. No doubt Director Caitlin Bouxsein has much to do with this breakneck display of competence.

You'll laugh all evening. Go.

Duranged Nights, June 11-26. The Mobtown Theater at Meadow Mill, 3600 Clipper Mill Road, Ste. 144, Hampden, Baltimore, MD 21211. . Tickets $15 General Admission, $12 Students and Seniors, available at and . Some adult language and adult content.



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