Christopher Durang's absurdist take on the War on Terror, Why Torture is Wrong, and the People Who Love Them (Torture), is playing at the Gamm Theatre in Pawtucket, RI through June 5, 2011.
The art of politics is sometimes to make the absurd seem mainstream. Defining torture, renaming French Fries as "Freedom Fries", and separating the country into "American" and "More American" factions are patently absurd exercises. Mr. Durang takes the already absurd and skewers it, heightening the absurdity to an uncomfortable, yet hysterically funny, level.
In Torture, we meet Zamir and Felicity who are waking up in an unfamiliar hotel room after a legendary bender, which began at an alternate universe Hooters (a maitre de and ballroom dancing). The highlight of their night was either the wedding ceremony, performed by a minister/porn director, or the kinky newlywed sex. Felicity remembers none of it. The booze may be partly to blame, but it is more likely the date-rape drug Zamir slipped her.
Confused and more than a little concerned that her new husband is a terrorist, Felicity flees the city to the warm embrace of her parents. Luella and Leonard live a picture-perfect, red-blooded, capitalist, Republican existence in suburban New Jersey. The persona of perfection that her parents have carefully crafted over decades crumbles as Leonard reveals that he is a member of an ultra-nationalist shadow government made up of like-minded idiots who may or may not be led by a mid-level CIA lawyer.
In particular, Luella's carefully constructed cocoon of plausible deniability implodes and she is forced to acknowledge her unhappiness with reality. When asked if she thinks the life she lives is normal, Luella wistfully replies, "Normal. It is such a conundrum for me."
The cast is divine and handles the intricate material with aplomb.
Alexander Platt is great as Zamir, the misunderstood misogynist husband. Certainly sleazy but no terrorist, Zamir is interested in living his version of the American dream, not destroying it.
Casey Seymour Kim as Felicity and Wendy Overly as her mother Luella, once again, display a terrific comic chemistry just as they did a couple of seasons ago in A Boston Marriage.
Jeanine Kane plays Hildegarde, a Phyllis Schlafly-type ultra-conservative operative who is in way over her head and can't admit it. The role has no grounding in reality, no back-story, but Kane embraces the sometimes-distressing hilarity.
Christopher Rosenquest does a fine job playing the charming (yet slimy) maitre de at Hooters, who also serves as the audience's host for the evening. Rosenquest also plays an ancillary member of the shadow government, a role that felt like un-necessary filler to the story.
Gary Lait Cummings delivers as the street minister / porn director (Reverend Mike describes himself as "Porn-Again"). Cummings gets to spout great lines like "God made sex and He watches it, so why shouldn't we?"
Gamm's production of Torture, directed by Tony Estrella, keeps the comedy at threat level "Red" throughout the first act and into the second. I laughEd Loudly and often. The hilarity sputters only when the production is required to follow the script and tear down the "fourth wall" and rip apart the space / time continuum.
Why Torture is Wrong, and the People Who Love Them runs through June 5, 2011 at the Sandra Feinstein-Gamm Theatre in Pawtucket, RI. Tickets range from $30 - $40 and can be purchased at the Box Office which is located at 172 Exchange St., by phone at (401) 723-4266, or online at www.gammtheatre.org.