By Bruce Sullivan
“If you want to tell people the truth – you better make it funny – or they will kill you.” ~ Billy Wilder
Director Ray Munro heeded Wilder’s warning in preparation for Clark University’s deliciously funny take on Christopher Durang’s “Why Torture is Wrong and the People Who Love Them.” The play, held at Clark University’s Little Center Theatre Nov. 3-12th, is a riotous political satire centering on America’s mounting anxiety during its endless war on terror. It was written on commission from the Public Theatre and premiered in March, 2009 at the Newman Theatre at the Public, only to be extended for a second time until May 10. Set in the paranoid days of the post 9-11 Bush Administration, Torture takes aim at America’s “Violence First” approach to the Arabic world. Torture is darkly comedic, edgy, thought-provoking, and challenging. In other words, it’s everything that college theatre should be.
The play opens as a horrified young Felicity (Emily Boyle) wakes in a cheap hotel room to discover she has married a quick-tempered misogynistic Arab named Zamir (hilariously performed by Ian Michaels). Felicity’s desire for a quick annulment is thwarted by Zamir’s penchant for violence. “It is a flaw in my character, but all the women in my family are dead.” The inevitable culture clash grows as the pair visit Felicity’s super-conservative Republican parents Leonard and Luella, perfectly portrayed by Milo MacPhail and the scene-stealing, delightful Betty MacCarthy. It’s Meet the Parents meets The Guantanamo Detention Camp as Leonard, a gun-toting, xenophobic, Cheney-ite, comes face to face with suspicious newcomer Zamir.
Hilarity ensues with shadow government operatives, a preacher-pornographer (Max Stern), a busty Monica Lewinsky-esque intern who literally can’t keep her panties on (Alana Osborn-Leif), and the comically dysfunctional family.
Can Felicity and Zamir’s relationship survive? Will their family and their country find a non-violent means of problem solving? Can east and west come together in a dialogue of acceptance and coexistence before it’s too late? Nah…
Director Ray Munro, who has a knack for choosing the right play at the right time, struck a perfect chord with Durang’s “Torture.” Munro’s bold choices make an already timely production even more appropriate for our era of supreme government and corporate distrust. The director “…was trying to find material that expresses this rage and also might move the zeitgeist even a little in the right direction.” The play’s opening smartly features George Carlin’s skewering of corporate America and a “willfully ignorant” public. “The owners of this country know the truth; it’s called The American Dream, because you have to be asleep to believe it.”
At intermission, breaking the fourth wall and bringing local reality to the audience’s attention, the cast passed the hat for the “Occupy Wall Street / Worcester Movements.” This further drove home the play’s thematic message, but no more so than the police barricades surrounding several city blocks of “occupy” protesters following the play’s conclusion. Perhaps Durang and Munro are on to something after all.
Experiencing this excellent production reminded me that Worcester County has a wealth of talent in its colleges and universities, and that when we think of going to the theatre, we might first want to check what’s being offered by local drama departments. Given the talent we witnessed onstage with “Torture,” today’s drama student may just be tomorrow’s Broadway star.
For more info on Clark University productions, visit www.clarku.edu/departments/clarkarts/theater.
For more on Christopher Durang, visit www.christopherdurang.com.
Catch even more Christopher Durang when The Alternate College Theatre at the College of the Holy Cross presents “Baby with the Bathwater,” directed by Katy Hannigan ‘12, on Dec. 1-3 at 8 p.m. and Dec. 3-4 at 2 p.m. Tix are $7 for members of the Holy Cross community and $10 for the general public. Tickets can be reserved by calling the ACT box office at (508) 793-3536.
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