Why Torture is Wrong, and the People Who Love Them

  • Date:
    April 1, 2009
    Review by:
    Tulis McCall

    A review by Tulis McCall

    This is just a goofy play. It starts goofy, gets absurd, and just about the time I thought it couldn't get wiggier, the play ran smack into a stone wall. It was as though Durang ran out of ideas and left his desk, like a teacher who has come to the end of a lesson plan before the end of the school day and decides to hand the last part of the day over to the students. Durang let�s the characters take over. It didn't work, but it was a nice try.

    A man and woman get drunk, get married and get laid. In that order. The guy is Middle Eastern as we used to say, and has anger issues, so when they wake up and she remembers the ceremony he never forgot, and she flips out, he gets angry and threatens violence. This is why she stays married to him and even brings him home to her parents who are one of whom wishes George Bush had been able to run for a third term and the other who spends a lot of time trying not to let her head wobble too much because all theatre-going memories would tumble out like so many marbles and be lost. Once at home the poop hits the fan. Felicity suspects Amir of being a terrorist even though he is only interested in doing porn with Reverend Mike, the "porn again" preacher who believes that if God can watch people having sex, everyone should be able to. Felicity's father kidnaps Amir and takes him up to his secret hideaway for some of that mild torture we've been hearing so much about. Another member of the underground authorities shows up long enough to drop her drawers several times. There is also a voiceover guy who narrates the whole thing.

    I hope I haven't lost you, but if I have, now you know how I felt watching this play. There has gotta be a story in this play, but it is swallowed whole by one scene after another spinning its little wheels off and otherwise not moving one centimeter. The addition of gratuitous violence was a real stumbling block, presented as humor with a touch of slapstick. It became a distraction and obscured the slender path Durang was treading.

    The result is that the characters floundered. Christine Neilson displays her one piece of schtick that she sends the audience over the moon - the noodled expression and head bob that belies her acting skills � because she had little else to do. As the father, Richard Poe is stuck with one note to play, that of a member of a conservative underground government, and he works his butt off to find variation on this one note. Lara Benanti and Amir Arison as the unfortunate couple and Audrie Neenan as Hildegarde suffer the one note fate as well. The exception to this was the character Rev. Mike (John Pankow) who seemed to have a reason not only for being in the play but for being alive.

    It is only when the "characters" take over, and Benanti is given something to do besides react, that we get a glimpse of a story. By then, however it is too late. All the funny bits, and there are many, and all the jokes about other authors' plays are not enough to make this play cling together. In the end it is a collection of excellent actors doing the very best they can, grabbing the moments that work, enjoying each other immensely, and doing their darndest not to torture anyone nearby.

    Tulis McCall

    What the press had to say.....

    "Don�t feel guilty about laughing so hard at .., Christopher Durang�s hilarious and disturbing new comedy about all-American violence."
    Ben Brantley
    New York Times

    "the play is filled with laughs"
    Joe Dziemianowicz
    New York Daily News

    "offering a surrealistically comic, deceivingly subversive take on the post-9/11 mind-set"
    Elisabeth Vincentelli
    New York Post

    "Gags beget gags, laughs are topped by louder laughs. I questioned only who those unsyntactical �Them� in the title were, but not for long before this carnival of lunacy swept me into its joyous saturnalia."
    John Simon

    "For his latest act of loopy profundity, the unrepentant satirist and scamp of the American theater has written a crackpot post-9/ll political comedy and an almost-hopeful romance."
    Linda Winer

    "If Durang's absurdism -- more South Park than Ionesco -- hasn't previously been to your taste, this play isn't likely to convert you. But I found that about two-thirds of its jokes hit the mark. Given Durang's joke density, that's a lot of laughter."
    Adam R. Perlman
    Back Stage

    "The problem with all this comedic insanity is that it is difficult to sustain, and there are a few lulls in the production... Yet it's amazing how the actors and playwright can punch things back up after the air begins to seep out of the convoluted story."
    Michael Kuchwara
    Associated Press

    "while Durang hits his mark in the familiar territory of domestic dysfunction, his political wit is less incisive, yielding a comedy of diminishing returns."
    David Rooney