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Wednesday, August 10,2011

Lacerating 'Laughter'

The battle of the sexes leads to bruising comedy in Riverwalk production

by UTE VON DER HEYDEN

The Woman says, "I want to talk to you about life. It’s just too difficult to be alive, isn’t it, and try to function?”  


Later on, we hear: “Have you all wondered why sexual intercourse sometimes makes you want to commit suicide?”


If you love those lines — or, more to the point, find them startlingly true — run to see “Laughing Wild.”  There are many more such nuggets. 


As a matter of fact, there are torrents
of brilliant, darkly funny lines in this Christopher Durang play,
playing in Riverwalk Theatre’s Black Box.  


Lansing audiences may remember Durang
from his Obie Award-winning “Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For
You,” a hilarious, full-force attack on the Catholic Church that was a
megahit for BoarsHead Theater. 


In “Laughing Wild,” first performed
Off-Broadway in 1987, Durang’s targets are the absurdities and
injustices of life, some of them specific to the urban perils, the HIV
epidemic, New Age healing fads and the existential angst of the ‘80s. 


And, of course, there’s the Catholic Church.


“Laughing Wild” is a three-part play with
two monologues, one presented by The Woman and the other by The Man. In
the third segment the two come together in their overlapping dream
worlds.  


We meet The Woman first, ranting about
life in general and specifically about an incident in a supermarket in
which she is prevented from buying a can of tuna by a man who won’t move
away from the shelf.  She has a history of mental illness and often seems crazily unhinged, but she is too smart and funny to be dismissed.  


The Man, who happens to be the guy from
the supermarket, delivers the second monologue. He’s more low-key, but
also deeply unhappy as he ruminates about his own sexuality, his job,
and an angry God that gives people all kinds of cancers and AIDS.  


In the final portion of the play The Man
and The Woman meet in their dreams and re-enact the tuna fish incident
in various madcap retakes. They end up together in a parody of the Sally
Jessy Raphael talk show.  The Woman has killed Raphael (she hates Raphael, Dr. Ruth Westheimer and Mother Teresa).  She
is now the talk show host and The Man appears as her guest, dressed as
the Infant of Prague, a 17th century Christ Child icon.  


Marni Darr Holmes is mesmerizing as The
Woman. She takes the stage with brown eyes blazing, every cell in her
body engaged. When she does her “laughing wild amid severest woe”
laughter, your heart is in your throat. 


When she says, “I wish I was killed when I
was a fetus,” you believe her. And at the end, when she leads the
audience in a breathing exercise, calling it “the basis of existence,”
you feel a sense of hope.


This may be Darr Holmes’ best work to
date, surpassing her recent thoughtfully nuanced performance in Edward
Albee’s “At Home at the Zoo.”  


As The Man, Michael Mahoney struggles
with his performance. His character is trying to live by positive
affirmations learned in self-help classes, but still feels “separate”
and “starved for meaning.” 


You can see Mahoney working hard at this
message, but on opening night he seemed uneasy and unsure of his lines.
He is, however, absolutely comfortable in the beguiling portrayal of the
Infant of Prague, spouting hypocritical birth control advice with
innocent conviction.  


Clearly, director Kerry Waters has given
her actors freedom to create their characters, but her own love for the
play shines through from beginning to end.


Choosing the Black Box space for this
mainstage production has allowed her to create immediacy and an exciting
in-your-face closeness (often literally) between actors and audience. 


Special applause goes to artist and
tattoo designer Adam Clinard for the compelling drawing of an eye that
dominates the set for the monologues, and to costumer Mary K.
Hodges-Nees for her well-researched, delightful Infant of Prague
costume.

’Laughing Wild’
Riverwalk Theatre
228 Museum Drive, Lansing
Through Aug. 14
7 p.m. Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays
$14 adults; $12 seniors (over 55) and students; Thursday shows are $10 for adults and $8 for seniors and students
(517) 482-5700
www.riverwalktheatre.com


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