An Evening of Durang
This is basically sketch comedy. The five short plays that comprise An Evening of Durang are satiric ensemble comedies that are often quite funny. All five were selected from the oeuvre of contemporary writer Christopher Durang, and many are well-suited to the strengths of the Brüka performers. Some of the short plays are served more confidently than others, but the overall effect is that of watching your favorite sketch comedy show: Monty Python or SNL or The State or Kids in the Hall. In all of those shows, as in An Evening of Durang, there are some sketches that leave you straight-faced, some that get you to crack a contented smile and others that split your sides.
This kind of high energy “sketch comedy” is a difficult genre in which to convey subtle humor—so many of the program’s best laughs come from its loudest characters: director Mary Bennett’s character in Wanda’s Visit and Scott Beers’ characters in ‘Dentity Crises. However, there are also some solid straight-character performances that are not to be overlooked—particularly Rodney Hurst as the writer Chris in Business Lunch at the Russian Tea Room and Rachael Lewis as Marsha in Wanda’s Visit.
Business Lunch suffers some because the primary target of its satire, name-dropping Hollywood yuppie movie producers, is common. Many of the characterizations in this play are classic stereotypes, and though this is clearly an intentional Hollywood lampoon and true to the script, one can’t help but feel the play might have been funnier 20 years ago.
Another play that doesn’t quite come together is Funeral Parlor. It was originally written for Robin Williams and Carol Burnett as part of a TV special. The Brüka production attempts to capture some of the zany humor associated with those two names. This is difficult to do without being annoying, and they don’t quite pull it off.
One problem area comes between the plays. The set changes are done to the tune of high-energy punk rock like Bad Religion and The Descendents. Colored disco lights play on the stage and the cast and crew shout encouraging words to one another like, “You rock!” This is presumably done to maintain energy and to segue from one play to the next. But it is a little confusing, and it’s unclear how it is intended to connect to the material.
The program is well-sequenced. The strongest plays come at the end and just before the intermission. One Minute Play, though not particularly strong, is a nice beginner, a brief scene that sets a tone and eases the audience into Durang’s world. The more effective in-your-face humor of ‘Dentity Crises and Wanda’s Visit would be too abrasive without it.
The costumes are great—the obvious and glorious highlight of costuming is Bennett’s appearance as Wanda, very nice. But watch for the (much) more subtle touch of the Wham! shirt worn by Hurst as Chris in Business Lunch … whose closet did that come out of?
There’s great use of props, food props especially, and the sets are generally good—‘Dentity Crises is definitely the most impressive on this count. Scott Beers’ eccentric portraits and the vivid, off-kilter colors perfectly capture the play’s themes of incest, suicide, repression, mania, hysteria and the destruction of childhood myths.