Comedy of Errors

Ensemble Theatre wrecks a witty script in the gaffe-riddled Durang/Durang

I suppose I'll eventually recover from having seen Ensemble Theatre's production of Durang/ Durang. In the meantime, I'll continue to lie here with a cold compress on my head, trying like mad to shake the memory of this unfortunate attempt at live entertainment.

When it isn't being bludgeoned by amateurs, Christopher Durang's collection of mordant one-acts is really quite funny. In one, he spoofs classical drama; in another, he targets the sort of showy "experimental" theater no one with any sense produces anymore. In the final bit, Durang writes himself into a skit about the horrors of Hollywood.

For Whom the Southern Belle Tolls is the best of these. In this parody of The Glass Menagerie, Laura is recast as Lawrence, a nervy neurotic consumed by asthma, eczema and his collection of glass swizzle sticks. Brother Tom brings home a dykey young woman with a hearing impairment -- a riff on Menagerie's "gentleman caller" -- and, when she proves unsuitable, Amanda and Lawrence make a wish on the latest issue of The Star.

Wanda woman: In the title role of Wanda's Visit, one of the one-acts that makes up Durang/Durang, Rebecca A. Siegel (right) gives one of the few performances truly worth sitting through.
Ensemble Theatre Company
Wanda woman: In the title role of Wanda's Visit, one of the one-acts that makes up Durang/Durang, Rebecca A. Siegel (right) gives one of the few performances truly worth sitting through.

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It's all very amusing, but only to those familiar with the original play. The tiny opening night audience clearly didn't know their Tennessee Williams and barely uttered a giggle as actor Bisk Consoli struggled to keep this sweet soufflé from falling. He received no help from Barbara McGrath, whose self-conscious send-up of Amanda Wingfield offered nothing more amusing than the preposterously ugly dress she wore for the role.

I'd like to see Rebecca A. Siegel in something that involves competent direction or more than one other capable performer. Her portrayal of the title role in Wanda's Visit brought a horrible woman vividly to life and provided one of the few performances worth watching in what was otherwise a wasted evening.

The other worthwhile performances belonged to Consoli, who -- when he wasn't being made to impersonate Frankenstein's monster in the program's second story -- was consistently funny. He was convincing as the beleaguered husband in Wanda's Visit and as the infantile oaf in the cartoonish Southern Belle, and he deserves a palm for distracting us from the feeble acting of his colleagues.

While the rest of the cast looked for laughs, Jessica Leigh Hunt's sloppy light cues provided the biggest yuks of the evening, particularly when two actors were left to play an entire scene in pitch blackness while a spotlight shone brightly several feet away.

This messy nonsense is Ben Weisenberg's first assignment as a director; let's hope it's his last. He and co-director Tim Hart seem to have instructed their players to stand stock-still or to pace and fidget nervously. The pair delivers under-rehearsed actors and sloppy scene changes and casts a spindly, fiftyish actor as an obese thirtysomething without trimming a single fat joke.

Weisenberg sat several seats away, busily scribbling first-night notes throughout the performance. I would like to have added some notes of my own, most of them addressed to Hart, who also is the company's artistic director. At intermission, Hart dared to make disparaging comments to me about his largely undertalented cast. He was correct in his assessment but way out of line in dissing his players to a theater critic -- or anyone else, for that matter.

During the second act, I found myself praying that my spleen would burst or that something -- anything -- would happen to bring down an early curtain on this dismal dress rehearsal. Eventually the cast ended its flatulent braying and let poor Christopher Durang alone, but not before turning his clever comedy into a largely lifeless amateur hour.

 
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