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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
Why Torture is Wrong, and the People who Love Them
Directed by Henning for the Blank Theatre Co.,the unwieldy titled Why Torture is Wrong, and the People who Love Them is a giddy romp through notions of love, paranoia and reality not necessarily in that order. Durang's wacked-out take on terrorism and the ways in which we deal with same is nothing short of demented and Henning's company embrace the beast with drawer dropping, Elmer Fudd-aping, zonked out zeal as necessity dictates. The evening's a riot and occasionally a thinker as well.
The only person standing outside, peering into this candy store of loonieness is Felicity (played by Rhea Seehorn) who wakes up half dressed in a strange hotel room, next to a man she doesn't recognize. He informs her that his name is Zamir (Sunil Malhotra) that 1. They are married, 2. He expects her family to support them because 3. His employment is infrequent and a bit shady. Oh, and he has a temper, and will fly into a rage at even the mention of the word "annulment."
Felicity's parents are of little help. Her quite crazy mother Luella (Christine Estabrook) nurses a theater obsession and lobs the playwright's best barbs at the institution (the audience member who willed his heart to stop during Tom Stoppard's Coast of Utopia, for example). Dad Leonard (Mike Genovese) is a former commando who is distrustful of foreigners, obsessed with a secret " butterfly collection" he won't let anybody see and is in semi secret contract with a bumbling anti-terrorist aide. That would be Hildegarde (Catherine Hicks) code named "Scooby Doo" who might be of a little more use if her undies wouldn't keep slipping down to her ankles. Felicity's search to understand and shed her husband also takes her to Reverend Mike (Nicholas Brendon), the former drug dealer turned minister who also makes porn movies. Reverend Mike married Felicity and Zamir. Now, in his loopy way, he just wants to help the couple.
Henning treats this material with the weight it deserves, treading the line between comic truth and outrageousness. Why Torture is Wrong is a satiric farce, certainly, but it's also the story of a woman adrift, a woman whose grip on reality is becoming unglued. Seehorn wisely favors understatement over panic. She can do a nifty "What the hell?" look at the oddballery surrounding her, but there is no sense that her Felicity is ever sinking. Just as important, when Leonard's "Shadow Government" activities make things grim, this Felicity makes it clear that she wants to see her husband single not deprived of body parts.
The rest of the ensemble is a rich comic symphony. Brendon waxes dreamily about "the big bang" and the Godlike qualities of porn. Genovese's Leonard mixes danger and buffoonery, and who knew Catherine Hicks still had such goofiness in her after 11 years of playing an oh so earnest preacher's wife on Seventh Heaven. Alec Mapa gets in on the act as a narrator, an androgynous waiter and one of Leonard's operatives. Estabrook, a veteran of plays by both Druang and his classmate Wendy Wasserstein, knows she's operating in a different kind of parallel universe here. While her cast mates must worry about things like terrorism, Luella can drone on about Wicked and Les Miz This Estabrook does with great comic finesse.
Since two of the most gut busting evenings I have ever spent in the theater were at plays by Christopher Durang (his Beyond Therapy and the Tennessee William's spoof For Whom the Southern Belle Tolls), the arrival of any new Durang work is welcome. While the east coast gets his Feinstein/Dame Edna collaboration All About Me, Hollywood gets the West Coast premiere of Why Torture is Wrong, and, thanks to the Blank's production, not a moment too soon.