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Christopher Durang is noted for his over-the-top situations in which taboo and disgusting opposites come together with hilarious, explosive results. The latest local production by Durang comes to us via Ghost and Spice Productions, based at Durham's Common Ground Theatre. Why Torture is Wrong, and the People Who Love Them starts off with a bang, as poor Felicity (Amanda Watson) wakes up from a bender to discover that she has spent the night in a strange man's bed. The situation is complicated by the fact that, before the tryst, the couple was married. Zamir (Jeff Alguire) is a foreigner ("It's Irish") who might or might not be a terrorist, a drug lord, an ex-con, and/or a gunrunner.
Felicity takes Zamir to meet her (Totally Dysfunctional) parents, Luella (Lenore Field) and Leonard (Larry Evans). Luella is a clueless wifey who spends her days remembering live theater productions and wondering why her husband spends all his time on the third floor of their home. Leonard is a gun-toting, cloak-and-dagger right-winger who seems to be Archie Bunker on steroids; in the first thirty seconds of their introduction, Leonard has a gun at Zamir's head and Zamir has threatened to blow up the house.
Felicity and Zamir were married by Reverend Mike (David Klionsky), who does porn on the side. In a conversation in a local dive, Rev. Mike invites Zamir to join his porn ring; he could star in their next big production, "The Big Bang!" Leonard, meanwhile, has arranged for one of his right-wing "Shadow government" associates, Hildegarde (Rachel Klem) — code name Skooby-Doo — to record the conversation to see if they can uncover a plot by these "foreigners." Hildy gets it all wrong, and convinces Leonard — who needs only a tiny push to believe — that the two are plotting to destroy the government with this Big Bang.
Leonard, Hildegarde, and an enigmatic operative known only as Looney Tunes (Jennifer Evans) kidnap Zamir and torture him to get the "facts" of this Big Bang; they refuse to believe that it is really a porno movie. They torture Zamir until he tells them exactly what they want to know, false as it is in the extreme.
The saving grace of this madness is Felicity, who refuses to accept that this is happening and wants the entire play rewound to a point where an alternate course can be arranged so Zamir and Leonard can live in harmony. Felicity rewrites the entire script, and the scene where she and Zamir meet, a Hooters Restaurant, is an absolute stitch!
Durang is a master at recreating one-dimensional characters who are one click away from doing either themselves or another violence; the lunacy that takes place onstage is funny only in that if we didn't laugh at it, we would be thoroughly depressed. From terrorists to shadow governments, Durang's universe is laughably unreal because it is so close to the truth of what might happen when the wrong elements are mixed together. The underlying truth of the entire play is that, indeed, torture is wrong, in that the information extracted from a tortured soul is usually what the torturer wants to know, whether it is false or true.
The two people who stretch the most in their portrayals here are company member Jeff Alguire as Zamir and guest artist Larry Evans as Leonard. These are roles that are anathema to them both, and their electricity as they interact in these tortured roles is a wonder to behold.
This is a funny play, but you have to take your humor from the totally bizarre situations in which these characters find themselves. Evans and Alguire butt heads continuously, Felicity cannot get Luella to stop talking about Theater, and Reverend Mike performs weddings and shoots porn! It is a complex and dynamic melange that comes so close to the edge that the one person who seems in any way sane in the show must completely rewrite the play to keep the final explosion — and it is indeed an explosion of epic proportions — from happening. And the really hilarious part of the entire work is that it does work, and all's well that ends well.
Why Torture Is Wrong, and the People Who Love Them is a madcap, explosive rollercoaster ride through modern urbania. Crazy situations include Leonard's "butterfly collection," on their third floor; Hildegarde's wardrobe malfunction; and the supremely bizarre combination of Jesus and Sex as proported by Reverend Mike. You will laugh until you cry, if indeed you don't cry first.
This production runs through May 14. For details, see the sidebar.