A mixed bag of sketches by Christopher Durang | Theater | Indy Week
Pin It

A mixed bag of sketches by Christopher Durang 

Lucinda Gainey (left) and G. Todd Buker in "A Stye of the Eye"

Photo by Jason Bailey

Lucinda Gainey (left) and G. Todd Buker in "A Stye of the Eye"

Having seen Bare Theatre's Durang Durang last weekend, as well as an online series of telltale photos from N.C. Theatre Conference's recent upper-level confab in Chapel Hill, it's clear that the theater needs its own version of Service Industry Night.

This would be a regular event where drama denizens toss back a few cold ones, let their hair down and send up some of their most (or least) favorite theatrical conventions. Keep it strictly a tonic for the troupes and don't let the critics or the public get anywhere near it.

Playwright Christopher Durang's doubly self-titled 1994 collection of one-acts wouldn't just be perfect for a gig like that; parts of it keep reading as if they came out of such a milieu. Some sketches, it's true, are accessible to a broad audience, such as Durang's take-off on The Glass Menagerie, "For Whom the Southern Belle Tolls." But well before the end of "A Stye of the Eye," an overachieving lampoon that manages to bring low two Sam Shepard plays (A Lie of the Mind and Curse of the Starving Class), Agnes of God and Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross, the gaffes and gags have largely turned toward theatrical inside baseball. (Among the most delicious of these in Bare Theatre's production: when G. Todd Buker, as a brain-damaged Beth, declares that he's off to star with RuPaul and Charles Busch in Albee's Three Tall Women.) References to French director Louis Malle and Simone Signoret similarly orient and delimit the film-genre farce "Nina in the Morning," while "Business Lunch at the Russian Tea Room" is primarily pitched toward the few who've ever wondered what happens when a playwright takes a meeting with a film producer.

Trust me, all of this would kill on a Theater Industry Night. But in front of a mixed but still appreciative house last weekend, I couldn't stop reflecting on two things. Weekly, through most of the 1970s, a group of 10 to 13 writers set a very high standard in topical farce for Carol Burnett's show on CBS. That standard has challenged writers ever since, on shows including In Living Color, MADtv and, of course, Saturday Night Live. Some but not all of Durang's sketch and satirical work reaches that level. "Stye," "Nina" and "Wanda's Visit" all stayed overlong, twisting the knife at least two or three times more than was necessary.

It also bears noting that Durang Durang comes just over a month after one of Bare Theatre's strongest productions ever: Let Them Be Heard, Buker's original adaptation of WPA slave narratives that were staged for the Juneteenth celebrations at Historic Stagville plantation.

Critically, it would be a disservice to set the gravitas of that work alongside the present offering; theatrically, these works originate in entirely different worlds.

But it is a point well worth raising when a company cuts corners in a comedy that it wouldn't in a dramatic offering. On the night I saw it, the noticeably flimsier characterizations in "Southern Belle" contrasted with more solidly constructed characters in "A Stye of the Eye." Julie Oliver and PJ Maske's work in several of the evening's one-acts was notably more robust than thinner characterizations by Whitney Griffin and Jeff Buckner. And under Olivia Griego's direction, the usually dependable Barbette Hunter seemed too rushed through the opener, "Mrs. Sorkin," before ably anchoring "Wanda's Visit."

Though the theatrical field deserves a night off now and then, actors and directors can't afford to take a break just because they're doing comedy. When characterizations are incomplete, it always shows: That's the takeaway from this uneven version of Durang Durang.

This article appeared in print with the headline "All in the family."

  • Durang Durang is an amusing collection of inside-theater jokes.


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

INDY Week publishes all kinds of comments, but we don't publish everything.

  • Comments that are not contributing to the conversation will be removed.
  • Comments that include ad hominem attacks will also be removed.
  • Please do not copy and paste the full text of a press release.

Permitted HTML:
  • To create paragraphs in your comment, type <p> at the start of a paragraph and </p> at the end of each paragraph.
  • To create bold text, type <b>bolded text</b> (please note the closing tag, </b>).
  • To create italicized text, type <i>italicized text</i> (please note the closing tag, </i>).
  • Proper web addresses will automatically become links.

Latest in Theater

Twitter Activity


I'm wondering why Dorfman specifically chose the Death and the Maiden quartet - deriving from the song Der Tod und …

by trishmapow on Forgiving is not forgetting in Ariel Dorfman's Death and the Maiden (Theater)

Most Read

Most Recent Comments

I'm wondering why Dorfman specifically chose the Death and the Maiden quartet - deriving from the song Der Tod und …

by trishmapow on Forgiving is not forgetting in Ariel Dorfman's Death and the Maiden (Theater)

I'm not a theatergoer, so it was off my usual path to see this production. The small/ mighty cast approached …

by Aims Arches on A Superlative Adaptation of Virginia Woolf's Orlando Packs Centuries of Insight into a Fleet Eighty Minutes (Theater)

I personally am remarkably intrigued to see this production but since I can't drive myself to it I will sadly …

by Ryan Oliveira on David Harrower Lives Up to His Name in Blackbird, a Challenging Portrait of Abuse (Theater)

I wholeheartedly agree with the position that there should be more structured, civic support for the thriving arts community in …

by ShellByars on Common Ground Closed. Sonorous Road Might Be Next. Is It Curtains for Small, Affordable Theaters in the Triangle? (Theater)

© 2017 Indy Week • 201 W. Main St., Suite 101, Durham, NC 27701 • phone 919-286-1972 • fax 919-286-4274
RSS Feeds | Powered by Foundation