Absurdly funny opening at The Abreact

By Donald V. Calamia

REVIEW:

'Durang: An Experiment and A Parody'

The Abreact, 442 E. Lafayette, Detroit. Staged Fri.-Sat., through Oct. 7, plus Sun., Oct. 1. Free admission/donations accepted. http://www.theabreact.com

Some might find it absurd that Detroit's coolest theater doesn't charge an admission fee. So I guess it makes sense, then, that The Abreact Performance Space has opened its sixth season with five short plays by absurdist playwright Christopher Durang.

Maybe they aren't so crazy after all!

Although the award-winning author is probably best known for such full-length works as "Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All for You" and "Beyond Therapy," Durang is also a prolific writer of short, one-act plays. Collections of such work already exist, but director Charles Reynolds decided to start the season with an experiment: How would the Abreact's audience - generally a smart, younger-than-average theatergoing crowd - respond to a night of the satirist's lesser known one-acts?

It took only a few seconds into the opening night performance for Reynolds to get his answer.

In Act One we first meet "Phyllis and Xenobia," two oddball sisters who argue about pudding, cookies and who killed their equally strange mother. In "The Hardy Boys and the Mystery of Where Babies Come From," the not-so-bright boy detectives try to figure out why having a bun in the oven is causing Nancy Drew to get married. Next up is "Women on a Playground," a look at two mothers watching their five-year-olds at play. "John and Mary Doe" closes the first half with a look at a seemingly typical American family of the 1950s that gets darker by the minute.

Durang fans will especially love the 35-minute second act, "A Stye of the Eye," which is a brilliant parody of the plays written by Sam Shepard. Even theatergoers unfamiliar with "A Lie of the Mind," "Agnes of God" or "Glengarry Glen Ross" should find much to laugh at in this wickedly delightful spoof.

Actually, there are laughs galore throughout the entire evening, thanks to Reynolds' fine direction. Parodies, satires and absurdist comedies are often prone to failure because of inept directors, but Reynolds understands and appreciates Durang's work. As such, each one-act is well thought out and expertly executed.

Likewise, Reynolds' actors are all at the top of their game.

Kelly Rossi and Amy Arena open the production as Phyllis and Xenobia, and within seconds they hilariously set the tone for the entire evening. Phil Bolden and Frank Sawa are boyishly charming as the Hardy Boys, while Elana Elyce has great moments as the school seductress, Nurse Ratched. Then there's wild-haired Sean McGettigan looking sheepish while standing in his blood-stained underwear in "A Stye of the Eye."

But it's Peter C. Prouty who gives the most amazing performances of the night. His John Doe is intensely brilliant - watch his eyes, especially - and the split personalities of "brothers" Jake and Frankie in the second act are skillfully drawn.

Sound and lights by the McGettigan Sound Machine and Chad Kushuba are also excellent.

And finally, was it my imagination, or was Sawa having just a little too much fun playing Beth, the supposedly murdered actress in "Stye"? It was, well, a revealing performance!

The Bottom Line: A night of laughs, thanks to the beautiful marriage of script, direction, acting, sound and lighting.

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