Delectable Durang: A Collection of Six Unruly Comedies

My review of this show was originally published in the Montague Reporter on October 4, 2018. Performances at the Hawks & Reed Performing Arts Center in Greenfield, Massachusetts, ran from September 27 through October 7, 2018. The Montague Reporter is a local, non-profit newspaper, published once a week in Turners Falls, Massachusetts.  All photography by Ellen Blanchette

“Nina in the Morning” with Kimberly Salditt-Poulin as Nina and Julian Findlay as Nina’s son, James, here showing his cruel side as he torments her about her appearance while she worries about growing older.

For today’s complex world, a little laughter provides relief. As luck would have it, here is Delectable Durang: A Collection of Six Unruly Comedies by Christopher Durang, the latest Silverthorne Theater Company production is now at Hawks and Reed Performing Arts Center in Greenfield, providing just such an opportunity. Executive Producer Lucinda Kidder completes the company’s fifth season with this surprising comedy, providing lots of laughter thanks to this group of talented actors and the wild, free wheeling ideas of Christopher Durang, an American playwright who takes an unusual approach to the issues facing us, asking us to look at the things we fear and laugh.

Chris Devine plays Foote, a kind of butler who serves Nina loyally if somewhat cynically in “Nina in the Morning.”

These six one-act plays by Christopher Durang selected by the Silverthorne Theater Company have certain themes that run through them, even on occasion certain lines that repeat from one play to another, creating a flow that appears to connect them but may instead be meant to confound us. They seems to offer a cohesive, if complicated world view, but never choose one point of view over another. Instead Durang pits these ideas against each other, looking at dark sinister concepts along side the lighter, optimism view. So we see a cruel mother, (Nina in the Morning) or is it the son who is really cruel? Does he have good reason or is he just mean? No matter. Each view is presented in the most humorous manner, with so much physical comedy that one forgets to notice the underlying cruelty of the characters, or the tragic lonely desperation they may feel.

The one-act play, “Women in a Playground” by Durang with, left to right, Stephanie Carlson and Corinne Elisabeth.

Two mothers sit in a park, watching their children play (Women In A Playground). One sees all the dangers her child faces, and all the years of struggle ahead with misbehavior she may face, while the other sees only joy, certain of the goodness she can expect in life. Which is correct? Does it matter? The humor lies in the clash of the two points of view, as each undermines the other. Think life is so good? Wait, it will change.

Julian Findlay as Lawrence in “For Whom the Southern Belle Tolls” with Stephanie Carlson as Amanda.

The gloomy pessimism of some of the characters frequently bumps up against politically incorrect thoughts. People say shocking things while reacting in wildly melodramatic ways to small, ordinary events. A boy who is really a man, obsessed with his collection of things no one would every value, hysterical when one is broken. Sad, miserable, no – funny, because his reaction is so over the top and in some way we can all identify with it, as we all know we are silly sometimes, foolish in our love of our possessions. People collect dolls long after they are grown. I had a friend who collected door stops, far too many to be useful. Some collect comic books, baseball cards then years later have to figure out what to do with them. So we laugh at him when he looses his mind over a broken swizzle stick.

It doesn’t hurt that the actors are so very good, willing to act (or over-react) in such bizarre ways. The cast functions as a mini-repertory company, with everything happening onstage. The actors change the sets right in front of the audience, change costumes quickly, sometimes wearing a costume for the next play in the last one even if it’s inappropriate to the scene.

Dave (Thom Griffin) sits on a bench and Polly (Kimberly Salditt-Poulin) stops to chat and gets a lot more than she bargained for in “One Minute Play.”

Silverthorne makes a point of hiring local talent when they can. These cast members are: Stephanie Carlson (Easthampton), Chris Devine (Sunderland), Corinne Elizabeth (Sunderland), Julian Findlay (Warwick), Thom Griffin (Colrain), and Kimberly Salditt-Poulin (Amherst). Director John Reese lives in Greenfield and was Deerfield Academy’s Theater Program Director. Also behind the scenes, Joan Haley, Stage Manager (Conway), John Iverson, Technical Director and Designer (Bernardston), Reba-Jean Shaw Pichette and Piper Pichette, Costume Designers (Deerfield). Executive Producer Lucinda Kidder lives in Turners Falls.

Each cast member brings a special quality to their various characters. Julian Findlay is especially good at physical comedy, with quick changes in mood and posture, throwing himself, literally, into the parts he plays. He can be gentle, frightened, cringing (For Whom the Southern Belle Tolls) at the suggestion he socialize with a woman. Or he can be horrible, cruel to his mother as he smiles with evil pleasure at torturing her (Nina in the Morning). Kimberly Salditt-Poulin shows a range of emotions as Nina in the same play, reacting to her son with pathos drenched in self pity. How obsessed she is with her fading beauty comes through in the melodrama of pure selfishness. No one would ever actually live like this, and so it is a caricature of reality; awful and yet to watch it, so very funny. Timing is everything and these actors under the clever guidance of director John Reese have got it.

Kimberly also plays a heartless friend who makes the mistake of stopping to chat with the very depressed Dave, played by Thom Griffin. His body posture reflects the careless resignation to a total failure of his life. Their momentary encounter brings out a theme that occurs throughout, the reality that death is out there, as a choice, or inevitable end. Where Kimberly as Nina says, “Lunch, or death,” and Thom as Dave says, with cheerful resignation, “Tomorrow, death.” That these lines can sound so morbid and yet fill the room with laughter shows the value of humor in facing realities we all do our best to avoid.

In Medea, the Greek classic re-imagined in Durang’s mind, Stephanie Carlson reaches deep inside herself to portray a woman wronged and filled with desire for violent revenge. Drama could not be more bold as she threatens everyone, supported by a Greek chorus made up of Kimberly, Thom and Corinne Elizabeth. Chris Devine comes in on a horse, making very believable horsey sounds, smiling through it all as he ignores Medea’s threats and they all manage to bring about the happy ending (assisted by an angel played by Julian, on a ladder, with wings) and joyous music to the tune of “Camp Town Races.”

The saving grace at the end of the six plays comes when Medea (Stephanie Carlson) distraught about her husband leaving her, is visited by an angel (Julian Findlay).

There is no way to fully describe the juxtaposition of music, words, concepts, references, complex feelings, issues of sexuality prejudice and vanity so the best thing to do would be to just say, this is a rare opportunity to see a group of professional actors performing in a series of one act plays by and exceptional playwright directed by the brilliant actor/director John Reese with an gift for comic timing all of whom we are lucky enough to have here in the Pioneer Valley.

 

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