Durang/Durang: funny/funny

Post Five catches the wave of the playwright's nervously comic and wholly entertaining series of skits

About a month ago, I got to talk with Christopher Durang, a playwright whose work I’ve tended to love for a long time. In advance of Portland Center Stage’s production of Vanya, Sonia, Mashia and Spike, I mostly peppered him with questions about that script and his works in general, but I also reached out to Post5 Theatre to see if they had any questions as they tackled his series of shorts, Durang/Durang.

They basically asked (in almost so few words) “What’s Durang/Durang doing?”

And the playwright, taken aback, replied, “Trying to entertain!”

“…duh,” he politely refrained from saying.

Heath Koerschgen, Jessica Tidd, and Kelly Godell in "Durang/Durang." Photo: Russell J. Young

Heath Koerschgen, Jessica Tidd, and Kelly Godell in “Durang/Durang.” Photo: Russell J. Young

A few weeks later, Post Five cried, “No, wait! We have another question.” Which was: could they just this once cast a man, Keith Cable, as Mrs. Sorkin, the verbose matron who introduces the show? Apparently the playwright obliged, because on opening night, there was Keith, demurely patting his Tootsie wig into place and delivering a ladylike performance à la Kids in the Hall, wherein the drag created a character, but was not the focus of a joke.

And here’s more good news: if Durang/Durang is trying to entertain, it succeeds, with a set of sketches so absurd, dynamic, and fast-paced they may as well be Saturday morning cartoons.

In For Whom The Southern Belle Tolls, a sendup of Tennessee Williams, Pat Janowski plays a southern mother who’s equal parts Blanche Dubois from Streetcar and Golden Girl Blanche Devereaux. She’s intent on marrying off her sickly son Lawrence, a spoof of “Blue Roses” Laura from The Glass Menagerie, played by Phillip J. Berns for maximum pity-laughs with a lurching gait and a crooked eye. Kelly Godell plays Lawrence’s intended but unlikely suitor Ginny, a good-natured, back-slapping warehouse coworker of Lawrence’s macho brother Tom, played by Heath Koerschgen with an echo of southern cartoon anti-heroes like Foghorn Leghorn or Yosemite Sam.

 Stye of the Eye gives Cable a crack at his masculine side, playing a fuming, wife-beating cowboy with a multiple personality disorder. Basking in an eerie red light, he strives to fill the scene with drama as quickly as the other, more ridiculous characters can drain it out the other side: Janowski as his hardbitten redneck mother, Berns as his (murdered?) wife Beth, Godell as Beth’s sister-in-law and a pretentious community theater actor, and Koerschgen again playing a stoic southern thug as Beth’s brother Wesley. All overtly acknowledge how “symbolic” everything is, and Wesley slaughters a lamb to drive home the point about destruction of innocence.

Janowski, like Cable, gets to run her range in this show, going abruptly from rags to riches at the top of the second act to play a botched facelift patient and nightmarish narcissist in Nina in the Morning. Berns again plays her son, this time a resentful rich kid, and Koerschgen and Jessica Tidd haunt her double doorway as her cryptic, evil butler and spoofishly sexy French maid. Her desperation is palpable (and unsympathetically funny) as she tries to perk up her falling face and flagging energy, the embodiment of “first-world problems.”

In Wanda’s Visit, Godell is a kooky character offset by two (in comedic terms) straight men: Tidd and Koerschgen as longtime married couple Jim and Marsha. Against his wife’s wishes, Jim invites his former high school girlfriend Wanda over for dinner…and both come to regret it when they realize that the once-sexy Wanda is now at best emotionally unstable, and at worst medically contagious and/or criminally dangerous. And, she will not…shut…up. Tidd’s passive-aggression seethes and Godell’s extroversion overflows in this outrageously uncomfortable relationship scenario.

There’s a sense that Business Lunch at the Russian Tea Room may be closest to Durang’s lived experience. Cable plays a playwright who, though content to sit home and sort his laundry, is hectored into a meeting with an executive from (Miramax sound-alike?) Zero Facts Films, played by Godell. The executive proceeds to spout offensive, ill-conceived screenplay concepts and blithely prove herself a shallow, horrible human being while an openly hostile, impatient server (played by Tidd) symbolically serves the playwright food that’s the opposite of what he ordered. Here, Tidd’s body language is particularly pointed, like a pretty Grinch.

In closing, the playwright wearily declares his intention to “go soak my brain in Clorox,” an understandable impulse to purge the many germs of ideas Durang has snuck into these slightly menacing live cartoons. Committing them to memory, as I did, is probably a mistake. Better to go along for the ride, bursting and snorting with irreverent laughter the whole time.

 *

Durang/Durang continues through March 28 at Post Five Theatre, 1666 S.E. Lambert St. in the Sellwood district. Ticket and schedule information here.

 

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