Durang's 'Torture,' at advanced age of 2

Posted: December 13, 2011

Christopher Durang, America's self-appointed satirist, the theater's oldest living teenager, wrote New City Stage's current show, Why Torture Is Wrong, and the People Who Love Them two years ago. An assault on the "war on terror," this is the perfect demonstration of how short the shelf life of political humor is. On his worst day, Stephen Colbert wouldn't foist off stuff this stale on us.

The plot begins when Felicity (Ginger Dayle, the cast's weak link) wakes up after a drunken night in bed with a man who claims to be her husband. Zamir (Sam Henderson) is a shady character, who may be a terrorist or a criminal or a drug addict on parole. She takes him home to meet her parents - slightly delirious, excessively chatty Luella (the excellent Marcia Saunders) and Leonard (Paul L. Nolan), a right-wing-lunatic, Second-Amendment kind of guy who runs a black op from his attic.

Add to the mix the preacher who married Felicity and Zamir, one Reverend Mike (Russ Widdall), whose day job is making porn films; and Hildegarde (Sonja Robson) and a weirdo who talks like a cartoon, played by Ed Swidey, both part of Daddy's shadow government.

It is astonishing that so many good actors should have been trapped in this torture chamber of a show. The strongest moments are Nolan's long monologue on butterflies and Saunders' rant on Terri Schiavo. Once the nastiness of the onstage torture is ratcheted up, the play takes a turn for the creepy that is miles from funny.

Michael Brophy directs with a leaden hand - all the comic "bits" are labored, while the scene changes and lighting cues seem endless. And on opening night the late-starting production took more than two hours, which is more than enough to wear out any joke - even if it were funny in the first place. Two things are death to farce: slow and I forget the other thing.


Why Torture Is Wrong, and the People Who Love Them

Presented by New City Stage Company at the Adrienne Theatre, 2030 Sansom St., through Jan. 7. Tickets: $10-$30. Information: 215-563-7500 or www.newcitystage.org


Follow Toby Zinman on Twitter at #philastage. Read her reviews at www.philly.com/phillystage.

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