Durang Durang

Brazen Tales presents 'Durang Durang' at Project Arts Centre.

Brazen Tales presents 'Durang Durang' at Project Arts Centre.

Brazen Tales presents 'Durang Durang' at Projec

Brazen Tales presents 'Durang Durang' at Projec

Absurd. Bizarre. Surreal. These adjectives are prerequisites for any review of the work of American playwright Christopher Durang, but they are ultimately inadequate at describing the full extent of his unusual sensibility. His plotlines, on the other hand, are far more revealing. Take Business Lunch at the Russian Tea Rooms, one of his six short plays that feature in Brazen Tales’ production of Durang Durang. A Hollywood executive asks a playwright to develop an O Henry-esque romantic comedy about a Catholic priest and a rabbi who fall in love, but both get sex changes without telling the other. This is Durang in a nutshell.

Nothing is sacred here, and Ireland is ultimately a funnier place because of this production. These six short plays flow seamlessly together, creating an evening of the hilariously strange, where unhinged characters are driven to breaking point. Brazen Tales first performed many of these short plays last summer and this polished production provides a cross-section of Durang’s work.

Who exactly are Durang’s characters? They tend to be white, middle-class Americans; some are Catholic, many work in theatre. The six pieces chosen by Brazen Tales also chart a subtle evolution of modern American cultural madness, exploring the sexual naivety of 1950s through to a more recent social vapidity via a Glee-referencing reimagining of Medea, where infanticide is deemed too depressing and thus written out of the play.

This is an infectiously fun production anchored by a talented cast all adept at playing a bevy of oddballs. One can understand why actor Camille Lucy Ross, founding member of Brazen Tales, would be eager to stage Durang’s work, such is her mastery of the character of a demented, shouty mother far beyond the edge of reason in Naomi in the Living Room. This short play could almost stand on its own, though Ross is almost as funny as a Beckettian garbage can dweller and the aforementioned Hollywood exec. Valerie O’Connor, too, brings real range to her performance, whether she’s playing a feckless Noel Coward heroine or a German nurse with a passion for S&M. The other members of the cast may have less epic roles, but Ciaran O’Brien’s actor caught in a nightmare where he has to star in a hybrid of Private Lives, Hamlet and Endgame, Donncha O’Dea’s doomed playwright, John Doran’s prying mourner and Anne Gill’s very positive Medea are all engaging, unconventional characters.

Still, cobbling six disparate theatre pieces into a coherent piece of theatre is a challenging task, to which director Ronan Phelan brings a few intriguing ploys. Mobile clothes racks, of all things, are employed as a linking device between plays, with the cast rotating them around to the beat of rollicking swing music, before positioning them as a frame for the proceeding performance. For all the costume changes and hijinks, the acting remains composed and measured throughout, for which Phelan deserves credit.

Durang Durang often felt like sketch comedy for theatre lovers, and Durang's writing seems to predict a shift towards the absurd in television and film comedy. Given that his comic sensibility seems perfectly tailored to the more lucrative mediums of television or film, it's perhaps surprising that his work hasn’t been embraced in more commercial mediums. (He described Robert Altman’s adaptation of his film Beyond Therapy as “horrific”.) This is theatre’s gain. Ultimately, it is the world of theatre where Durang’s writing feels most at home, with the two plays which bookend the production – An Actor’s Nightmare and Medea, each of which feature plays within plays within plays – showing the expansive range of Durang’s imagination.

The shower of absurdity did occasionally stand in the way of pathos, but the pleasure of Durang is his ability to push the boundaries of what’s sane. This spirit is most vivid during the final play, the Medea reworking which features Ross and O’Connor’s brilliant synchronised Greek chorus and a song-and-dance number that closes the tragedy. For those seeking a theatre experience that is more absurd, bizarre and surreal, Durang Durang is a fine starting point.

Donald Mahoney

  • Review
  • Theatre

Durang Durang by Christopher Durang

3 - 7 April, 2012

Produced by Brazen Tales
In Project Arts Centre

Directed by Ronan Phelan

Set and Lighting Design: Zia Holly

Costume: Issy D’Arcy Clarke and Camille Lucy Ross

With: John Doran, Anne Gill, Camille Lucy Ross, Ciaran O’Brien, Valerie O’Connor, Donncha O’Dea