The laugh's the thing

If you go to see "Durang Durang," at Oregon Stage Works, fasten your seat belts, it's gonna be a bumpy night. Taking most of the lumps are playwrights Tennessee Williams and Sam Shepard, but nothing is sacred in Christopher Durang's madcap collection of six short plays.

Durang has always reminded one of the fellow who shouts to the universe, "I exist!" only to have the universe reply, "The fact has not created in me a sense of obligation."

Question: What to do in such a cosmos?

Durang's answer: Laugh loudly and often — even when looking nervously over your shoulder.

Directed with gusto by Barbara Segal, OSW's production opened Saturday night with a cast including several OSW regulars. It is divided into two acts, each of which offers three short plays.

Barbara Rosen sets the tone in the first piece, a one-woman thing called "Mrs. Sorken" which serves as an introduction to the evening.

Rosen delivers the rambling, loopy spiel on the theater and its audience as a distaff Alistair Cooke might do if she nipped too hard at the sherry before introducing "Masterpiece Theatre." She's talking about the stage, but we learn hilarious details of her life.

Durang brings out the heavy guns in a sendup of the iconic "The Glass Menagerie" called "For Whom the Southern Belle Tolls." Tennessee Williams' Amanda Wingfield has become long-suffering Amanda Wingvalley (Priscilla Quinby), who'd really like to get rid of those over-age kids hanging around the house. Poor, damaged Laura has become Lawrence (Sam King), a recluse with a psychosomatic limp and a collection not of glass figures but cocktail stirrers, many of which he has named. Tom (Jim Bowen) spends his time going to the movies and bringing home sailors.

Like many Williams characters, Lawrence is as sensitive as a boil, leading Amanda to tell him, "You're so sensitive it makes me want to hit you."

You don't need to be up on your Tennessee Williams to get it. After a half-century of community theater, movies, television and endless parodies, these larger-than-life characters have passed into the culture as if by osmosis. This is true to a somewhat lesser extent of the Shepard spoof, "A Stye of the Eye," which is even giddier than "Southern Belle."

It takes off from Shepard's "A Lie of the Mind" and veers into "Agnes of God," David Mamet and all manner of absurd tomfoolery. Jake (Sam King) has kilt his woman. Or maybe he ain't. And maybe that brother of his is just another aspect of hisself.

In this convoluted tale of a dysfunctional white trash family, maybe everything is just a big ol' symbol. After all, Ma (Quinby) herself remarks, "I gave birth to a symbol — and me with no college education."

Never one to pass a chance for a visual pun, Durang throws in some funny business with cymbals. Maybe they're a symbol.

Other pieces find Sarah Foster as a shallow B.P. (beautiful person) obsessing over her artificially preserved face in mirrors, the trampy Wanda (Tamara Hofffman) as the guest from hell visiting old high school flame Jim (Bowen) and his wife, and playwright Chris (King, as Durang's stand-in) lunching at the Russian tea room with a tasteless Hollywood producer (Sarah Foster).

It's a funny evening, and a longish one (nearly three hours) in which some darts hit their targets more squarely than others. A little judicious pruning would probably have made the whole thing even funnier.

Don't look for larger meanings, the laugh's the thing. The actors appear to be having a good time (King, especially, has some great moments). Chances are the audience will, too.

"Durang Durang" plays in repertory with "The Compleat Works of Wllm Shkspr (abridged)" through Sept 15. For a complete schedule, call 482-2334 or visit

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