Full Length Plays
ACT ONE: Theater
ACT TWO: Everything Else
Durang/Durang is an evening of six one acts. It is thus not a full length play, but it is a full evening.
Prior to Durang/Durang, the one act play For Whom the Southern Belle Tolls was presented in the spring of 1994 by Ensemble Studio Theatre (Curt Dempster, artistic director, Kevin Confoy, managing director) in New York City as part of its one-act Marathon ’94. It was very much the hit of the evening, and it had the same director and cast who did it the following fall at Manhattan Theatre Club.
A few years before both of these productions, there was a showcase production of an earlier draft of For Whom the Southern Belle Tolls, directed by Scott Allen and featuring Laura Waterbury as Amanda, John Money as Lawrence, Timothy Kivel as Tom, and Julie Knight as Ginny.
The short play Mrs. Sorken had an earlier incarnation at American Repertory Theatre in an evening called Mrs. Sorken Presents, which featured the wonderful Elizabeth Franz as Mrs. Sorken.
The play Wanda’s Visit began as a teleplay for a PBS series called Trying Times in 1986. This series asked different playwrights each to write a 30 minute teleplay about “difficult, trying events” that people lived through. Beth Henley, Wendy Wasserstein, George C. Wolfe, Bernard Slade, Albert Innaurato all wrote teleplays for the series. Durang’s was called The Visit and was directed by the wonderful actor (as well as director) Alan Arkin. The terrific cast was Swoosie Kurtz, Jeff Daniels, Julie Hagerty. (Durang played the waiter.) The PBS contract allowed Durang the stage rights, and he adapted the piece for theatre for Durang/Durang.
Some reviews for Durang/Durang included:
Mrs. Sorken is an introductory, welcoming speech to the audience in which the over-articulate, somewhat dotty Mrs. Sorken explains her likes and dislikes about theatre, her views on the meaning of life, and what the audience can expect to see this evening. (She says: “Act I is theatre parodies. Act 2… is not.”)
In this version Amanda is frustrated with her over-sensitive, hypochondriac son named Lawrence. Lawrence refuses to leave the house or get a job; he’s too shy to ever met anyone; and he spends all his time playing with his collection of glass cocktail stirrers. (“This one is called string bean because it’s long and thin,” he says. “I call this one thermometer because it looks like a thermometer.” “All my children have such imagination,” Amanda says with despair.)
Lawrence’s more regular brother Tom brings home a “feminine caller” from the warehouse, and Lawrence is overwhelmed by the butch girl Ginny who is deaf and shouts all the time. Ginny and Lawrence eventually sort of hit it off, and she teaches him how to swagger and talk about baseball in a loud voice. But then she leaves, and Tom goes off to the movies (where he has a tendency to meet and bring home sailors who have missed their boat), and Amanda is stuck forever with hopeless Lawrence
Stye of the Eye is a giddy parody of Sam Shepard plays, especially Lie of the Mind, Fool for Love, a bit of Curse of the Starving Class, with bits of John Pielmier’s Agnes of God and David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross thrown in for good measure. The audience at Manhattan Theatre Club didn’t really know those plays that well, but they seemed to accept and enjoy the play as a parody of a kind of drama – poetic, symbolic drama seeped in the myth of the American west.
The story tells of two brothers, crazy violent Jake and sensible Frank. Jake has almost killed his wife Beth, leaving her brain damaged. Jake and Frank are played by the same actor, causing their Ma to say to Frank: “You know, you and Jake sound so much alike that sometimes I think you’re both two different aspects of the same personality. That means I give birth to a symbol, and me with no college edjacation.”
Beth wanders home to her blowsy, sexy mother Meg and her spacey brother Wesley. Beth talks in nonsense syllables now, which Meg seems to enjoy. Wesley wanders around in his underwear, splattered in lamb’s blood. Jake and Frankie show up, and so does their sister Mae who’s in love with both of them. Meg develops styes in her eyes, which seem symbolic. Ma goes blind. Mae finds a pair of cymbals and crashes them together. Jake kills Frankie, but survives. He leaves to go further out west. They all ponder the depth of it all while a coyote howls.
Nina in the Morning is a mysterious, funny play about an extremely wealthy, narcissistic woman named Nina. Her face lift has fallen this morning, and her plastic surgeon is unreachable, on vacation in Aruba. She has three children (all played by the same actor), two of whom keep trying to kill her; the third one is the mentally challenged girl LaLa, whom Nina keeps accusing of being “willfully retarded.” While her servant Foote follows her bidding (including giving one of her sons a knockout shot; Foote used to be a dentist), an elegant Narrator describes past events in Nina’s life which she recalls and sometimes relives (many seductions, especially of chauffeurs and house painters). Finally one of her children shoots her in the shoulder, and Nina becomes discouraged and considers suicide. On the other hand, it’s near lunch time. She’s left debating to herself: “Death… or lunch. Death…. or lunch.”
(From Durang: note on Nina. “Because the earlier two plays were parodies, many audience members thought this was a parody, and due to its wealthy characters and formal speech, they thought it was maybe a parody of Edward Albee dramas. It isn’t really. It is its own strange thing. If anything, it kind of resembles the deadpan Gothic world of the artist/writer Edward Gorey, though that connection was not consciously pursued on my part. Anyway, it’s a quirky piece, though I think funny.”)
Wanda’s Visit tells the story of a suburban couple, Jim and Marsha, who are starting to feel a little stuck in their marriage after 13 years. Not unhappy, just… restless. Jim gets a letter from an old high school girl friend named Wanda, who asks to come visit. Jim is excited by the prospect of this visit, but Marsha dreads it (but doesn’t say so). Wanda shows up, and she’s quite a handful. Red haired and vibrant, wearing bright colors and talking non-stop, Wanda is warm and overwhelming. She hugs Jim a lot, and keeps telling Marsha how great he is. Then she bursts into tears, saying that in high school everyone presumed she and Jim would get married. Jim is totally shocked and asks “who presumed this?” “Well, everyone,” says Wanda. “My mother, my father, me, everyone.”
Wanda proceeds to chronicle for them the lengthy and endless details of her years of promiscuity, her bad choices in men, and her getting facial surgery to avoid detection from some kingpin of crime. In the morning Wanda cons Jim into giving her a back rub, which Marsha walks in on. Jim is finding Wanda nerve-wracking, and yet he’s also flattered by her interest in him.
Finally they all go to a restaurant where Wanda is taken out of their lives in a surprise development, and Jim and Marsha are left to think about the visit: it stirred them up, kind of, it encouraged them to take an aerobics class together; now if only they were happy.
Business Lunch at the Russian Tea Room tells of a playwright named Chris who’s doing his laundry. His agent Margaret reminds him that he has a meeting about a possible film writing job with a hot shot movie executive at the Russian Tea Room. Chris goes to the meeting, and the Russian waiter is mysteriously hostile to Chris. Then Melissa Stearn arrives. She talks a mile a minute, she initially think Chris is the playwright Craig Lucas, and she is filled with countless opinions and ideas, with little alarming insights into her personal life. (“I’m involved in six lawsuits right now, one of them against my mother. I’m gonna make her beg.”)
She then tells Chris the brilliant idea she’d like him to turn into a screenplay: “It’s about a Catholic priest and a rabbi, who fall in love and then, O. Henry-style, each has a sex change without telling the other one.” Chris is speechless at this, and she then pitches several more alarming ideas. Finally Chris gets out of there, but later thinks how needs the money, and we start to see inside his head as he tries to write this “priest/rabbi” movie. Finally, he becomes overwhelmed and decides to turn the project down and just focus on the honest task of matching his socks in the laundry. The fictional Priest and Rabbi come over to help him match socks, as the play ends.
Durang/Durang was successful with audiences at Manhattan Theatre Club, and is a varied, playful evening. Audiences who knew The Glass Menagerie and at least some Sam Shepard work seemed to especially enjoy the parody, of course; but audiences who didn’t know what specific plays were being parodied seemed to enjoy them too – in For Whom the Southern Belle Tolls they enjoyed Amanda’s struggling with her two sons as a nutty comedy of parent-child confrontation; and in A Stye of the Eye they seemed to enjoy the silliness of this over-the-top, poetic, out west world.
The one acts can be done separately, as well, or in different combinations. In the 1996 South Coast Repertory Theatre in Costa Mesa, California did a similar evening called A Mess of Plays by Chris Durang, which included For Whom the Southern Belle Tolls, but otherwise featured a string of 10 minute Durang plays, including Naomi in the Living Room, Funeral Parlour, John and Mary Doe, and about 7 or 8 other ones. (The 10 minute plays in the South Coast evening are all published in the DPS book Naomi in the Living Room and Other Short Plays. For Whom the Southern Belle Tolls is published in the DPS book Durang/Durang.)And in summer 1997 yet another evening of Durang one acts was presented by Birnam Wood Productions at the John Drew Theatre in East Hampton, New York, suitably entitled Mix and Match Durang. The plays on that evening were Naomi in the Living Room, Kitty the Waitress, Funeral Parlour, Gym Teacher, The Hardy Boys and the Mystery of Where Babies Come From, “Desire, Desire, Desire”, and Business Lunch at the Russian Tea Room. (All those plays are in the DPS book Naomi in the Living Room and Other Short Plays, except for Business Lunch
Cast size: (for Durang/Durang) 3 male,