Why Torture Is Wrong and the People Who Love Them

Play:        Why Torture Is Wrong and the People Who Love Them

Group:        HotCity Theatre

Venue:        Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 North Grand in the Big Brothers Big Sisters Building

Dates:        February 18, 19, 20, 21, 25, 26, 27

Tickets:    From $15 to $25; contact 314-289-4063 or www.hotcitytheatre.org

Story:    Felicity has a problem.  She has awoken next to a strange man in her New York apartment who tells her that they were married the previous evening.  The reason she doesn’t remember this, says her new husband Zamir, is that she was drunk and passed out during the ceremony that was performed at a Hooter’s by a minister named Reverend Mike, who also dabbles in pornography production.  After Zamir, who repeatedly claims to be Irish, makes references to deliveries in the night and finding money under rocks as his way of making a living, Felicity flees to her parents’ home in the New Jersey suburbs, followed by Zamir.

Her mother Luella, dressed in her daily finery of pearls, dress and high heels, rapturously listens to Felicity’s tale of woe between asking about her daughter’s latest visits to the theater (which Felicity hates) and other marks of culture in the city.  When Felicity’s gun-toting father Leonard enters, he immediately aims at the dark-skinned Zamir, who in turn threatens to blow up the house with a detonation device triggered by his cell phone.  Throw in a dippy operative who has a crush on Leonard, a waiter who is also a ventriloquist, another operative who speaks in Looney Tunes voices and a plan by a “secret government” to use torture to thwart a supposed plot against the federal government and you have the makings of a…comedy.

Highlights:    This grammatically incorrect, two-act work by Christopher Durang, which opened in New York just last year, is making its local premiere in a rollicking production directed by Marty Stanberry at HotCity Theatre.  The combination of outrageously funny antics provided by Durang, coupled with expert timing and delivery by Stanberry’s carefully chosen cast, results in an unexpectedly delightful evening.  That ‘unexpected’ description extends to a most unusual denouement that avoids an easy comparison with Dr. Strangelove.

Other Info:    Stanberry’s pacing is marvelous in the first act, although the story drags perceptibly following intermission before arriving at a clever and refreshing conclusion.  Amidst an abundance of blood, ammunition and raging testosterone, there’s enough hilarity resulting from the absurdity of the situation and its uncomfortable resemblance to extremists of all stripes to keep one filled with fitful fits of laughter.

    Technically, Otis Sweezey’s set design is a ridiculously amusing amalgam of American Gothic held hostage on one end of the stage and Leonard’s bizarre torture room on the other, all lit in suitably garish fashion by Sean Savoie’s lighting, contrasting with his soothing effects of a later dance scene.  Bonnie Kruger’s costumes are highlighted by the absurd military tendencies of Leonard, Luella’s rainbow of identical dresses for different moods and Hildegard’s penchant for slipping panties.  A special nod goes to Liz Spray for Leonard’s disturbing arsenal.

    Brooke Edwards injects Felicity with an expert combination of panic and aplomb as she frantically works to make sense of her rapidly deteriorating situation, both acting and reacting with precise comic style.  Whit Reichert blends menacing bluster and bravado with broad comedy for the caricature of Leonard, while Kari Ely offers the show’s most unexpectedly poignant moment amidst her treasure trove of Luella’s vapid statements and gestures.

    Adam Flores once again demonstrates a delightful ability to extract hilarity from outrageous characters, while Jenn Bock is endearing as a totally flummoxed lady whose misguided patriotism is matched by her ineptitude.  Add G.P. Hunsaker’s manic, off-kilter porno producer/minister and a trio of over-the-top wackos essayed by Jordan Reinwald, including an operative who is a little too into his code name of Looney Tunes, a maitre d’ who channels the MC in Cabaret and a waiter who has trouble respecting his customers and you have the recipe for a funny, funny evening.

    Venture out into the cold and you’ll be rewarded with a good time that will also make you think and squirm in equal measures.

Rating:    A 4.5 on a scale of 1-to-5.