Theatre Review: “Durang-O-Rama” by InterAction Theater at the Fringe

Diane Kondrat and Bill Simmons in "Funeral Parlor" - photo provided by Bill Simmons

On Sunday, February 8, 2009, I drove downtown to the new Indy Fringe headquarters to see “Durang-O-Rama! 5 One-Acts by Christopher Durang” as presented by InterAction Theater.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to write about it before the show closed on February 14. I would like to record some thoughts about it now just because.

Before the show, several theatre people told me that almost nobody produces Christopher Durang around here because he is so “out there.”  I confess that I said aloud at the end of this show, “Well, that was ODD.” 

But…I like odd.  Christopher Durang must be a strange, strange man, but so what?  I admire his ability to capture and shape the bizarre stuff that runs through his imagination.  It makes me laugh.  And it makes me feel more accepting of the bizarre stuff that runs through my own.

I was glad to have seen this quirky collection of stories brought to life by such talented, professional actors, too.  The Fringe headquarters has come a long way as a performance space – and I appreciate the Allen Whitehill Clowes Charitable Foundation, LISC, and Perkins VanDeylen Architects for their support of the ongoing restoration and renovation of the former church building – but it is still very much a work in progress.   There is no room to have a backstage area, for example, so just before the show starts, the lights dim, sunlight shines through tiny cracks in the walls, and the actors come up from the stairwell to the basement and run past the audience to take their places behind panels set at either side of the stage.  Yet it doesn’t feel at all like “Judy and Mickey have a barn.”  Or actually, maybe it does, and that is exactly what highlights the excellent quality of the acting.

 

In fact, there were many elements of excellence in this production.  The set, constructed by Lee Dykstra and Troy Trinkle, was simple to fit the space yet also witty and flexible.  The costumes were gorgeous.  Diane Kondrat was the “costume wrangler,” assisted by Brynda Forgas and Margaret Kondrat.  It was like that scene from the book, Shogun, by James Clavell, where the brutish samurai prepares a tea ceremony in order to make peace with his wife.  They are at a poor inn and he only has access to very rough materials, but he creates something special out of what he has through his artistry.

I appreciated the ordering of this particular selection of Durang one-acts, too, even though I enjoyed some individual plays more than others.  There was a good mix of lengths and a good mix of two-handers versus plays with several characters.   Also, the show shocked the audience (or me, anyway) right from the beginning, so you knew right away what you were getting into.

The first play was called “The Book of Leviticus Show.”  Diane Kondrat directed it.  Anna Ardizzone (Lettie Lu) was scary as a chirpy wacko making a “Bible-based” television show with her equally wacko husband, Tommy (Scot Greenwell) and out-of-it Grandma (Bill Simmons.)   Matt Goodrich played “Tied-Up Person #1” and Jon Lindley played “Tied-Up Person #2,” which tells you quite a lot about the disconnect in the messages between “God” and Lettie Lu and Tommy.

Julia Televiak directed “For Whom the Belle Tolls,” which was a spoof of “The Glass Menagerie.”  I agree with IBJ reviewer Lou Harry that this could have been a mere cartoon, but wasn’t.  It was much more layered than that.  Diane Kondrat portrayed the mother, Amanda, as a real person: funny but also sympathetic in her frustration over her cramped lot in life.  Scot Greenwell was hilarious as her limping, asthmatic, obsessive-compulsive collector-of-glass-swizzle-sticks younger son, Lawrence.  Bill Simmons was a hoot as Tom, the hunky older son who spends all of his time at the movie theatre meeting male “friends” and watching movies his mother has never heard of.  Anna Ardizzone was funny as Ginny, the gentlewoman caller meant to marry Lawrence and free Amanda to live her life again.  If only Ginny weren’t so butch.

The next play was called “Phyllis & Xenobia.”  It was directed by Diane Kondrat and featured Greenwell as Phyllis and Ardizzone as Xenobia, two sisters bickering over tea and cookies…and reminiscing about murdering their mother.  I have since looked at other versions of this on YouTube and come to appreciate even more the subtlety and humor of the portrayals in this particular production.

My favorite of all the plays was the fourth one, called “Funeral Parlor.”  Scot Greenwell directed it.  Diane Kondrat played Susan, a tightly-wound, grieving widow.  Bill Simmons played Marcus, an almost child-like acquaintance of the man who died, with very few social skills.  Marcus was a disturbing presence at the funeral – he literally had “sorrow” written on his forehead – but also ultimately a healing one.  I laughed a lot during this piece, but was also touched by it.

After the intermission came the final and longest play, called “Titanic.”  It was directed by Patricia McKee and involved all six members of the cast as passengers or crew on that ill-fated vessel. 

I laughed out loud at the expression on the Captain’s (Bill Simmons’) face whenever he put on his purple dildo headgear with its slice of white bread speared at just the right angle.  He just looked so proud of himself!  Anna Ardizzone’s beautiful singing was a lovely surprise.  (I hadn’t expected singing in this show.)  I also admired the impeccable pacing of the piece, beginning with the interaction of the three icky Tammurai family members (Diane Kondrat, Jon Lindley, and Scot Greenwell) in the dining room.  Matt Goodrich cracked me up every time he struck a heroic pose as first mate Higgins and okay, call me a cougar but I liked seeing him with his shirt off, too. 

But finally, the endless sexual (but paradoxically also sexless) shenanigans of the group just wore me out. As I say, it was an odd, odd play.

And an unusual show.  I am glad I got to see it.

Bill Simmons was the executive director and producer.  Diane Kondrat was the artistic director and producer.  Braden Pemberton was the stage manager.  Amanda Lane was the box office manager.

Troy Trinkle was the “Lighting Rescue Artist.”  Karen Irwin was the “Sound System Rescue Artist.”  These titles made me laugh when I first read them, and I am laughing again now, as I type them here.  ‘Sorry if I am being disrespectful.  (But hah!)

Braden Pemberton was the sound designer.  Lindsay Craig designed the posters and postcards for the show.

I was also interested to read in the program that the InterAction Theater’s Board of Directors includes Troy Trinkle (Chair), Karen Irwin, Constance Macy Koharchik, Patricia McKee, Angela Plank, and Milicent Wright.  The links are to just a few reviews of shows in which I have seen of their acting work at other theatres around town.

“Durang-o-Rama” was made possible with support from the Arts Council of Indianapolis and the Indiana Arts Commission, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

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By the way, I got to sit with Bryan Fonseca and Gayle Steigerwald.  Bryan is the Producing Director of the Phoenix Theatre and Gayle has appeared in many shows there, including, in the time that I have been writing this blog, “Well“, “Murderers,” and “On Thin Ice: A Very Phoenix Xmas 3.”

Bryan told me that he is a big fan of Christopher Durang.  I was impressed to learn that the Phoenix has produced more plays by Durang than any other playwright.  

(In case you are curious as I was: after Durang, August Wilson is the playwright the Phoenix has produced the most in its 25+ years.)

Bryan also told me that he is looking forward to reading and/or seeing Christopher Durang’s new play, “Why Torture is Wrong, and the People Who Love Them.”  Bryan directed me to Durang’s website for more information about this play, which will have its world premier at the Public Theater in New York.  I went to Durang’s website and discovered…

I know Christopher Durang!

Well, okay, I don’t know him personally, but I feel as if I know him from loving his work as a movie actor.  He played the dweeby-cute Mr. Liddle in “The Butcher’s Wife.”  You know, the client who sneaks the African mask decorations off the wall and puts them on his face when the psychiatrist is looking the other way.  Durang played the earnest and hilarious Reverend Lipkin in “Housesitter,” too.  Oh, my, I am laughing out loud again, remembering that portrayal.

Okay, once I get caught up with my review writing I am going to dig those two videotapes out of the box in my garage and fire up my old VHS player to watch them again.   I love those two movies.

And hey, now that I’ve seen some of his plays, I feel I know Christopher Durang!

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I will also, if I can find out what the InterAction Theater’s next project is, report it to you here.   Diane Kondrat tells me that  “the ‘theatre’ in InterAction Theater is spelled what I call ‘the American way,’ with an ER.  If you spell it with an RE and you google it, you go to a theatre in Pennsylvania.”   

And this show’s program tells me that Kondrat will be in “Doubt” at Cardinal Stage Company in Bloomington in the Spring.  (Note to self:  ask brother Ned if he and Kristi would like to go to this.)

Also, as he was leaving the Fringe space on Sunday afternoon, Matt Goodrich told me that he would be appearing in “Pillow Man” at Wabash College Theater  February 25-28, 2009.  Hmm…I wonder how long it takes to get from Indy to Crawfordsville?

In any case, I recommend that you check the Indy Fringe website frequently, and/or get on their mailing list for news about upcoming shows in their new, year-round performance space just off the intersection of College and Mass Ave.  Exciting things are going on there, and it is fun to be part of its transformation from abandoned church to arts power spot.

Hope Baugh – www.IndyTheatreHabit.com

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