Tommy taps and a brown guy gets the 3rd degree in 2 disparate shows
ARNOLD WAYNE JONES | Life+Style Editor
Christopher Durang is a no-holds-barred kind of playwright: You either give yourself over to his scathingly satiric absurdist romps entirely, or you sit there, nose firmly out of joint, dreading every outrageous moment of it.
I rather expected the audience at opening night of Why Torture Is Wrong and the People Who Love Them to head out in droves come intermish. After all, this is the space that usually houses the agreeable romantic musical I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change; Torture bandies about the F word with and makes fun of George W. Bush. It shows a half-naked brown man being savagely beaten by a gun-toting Republican. This is not what you’d call “Highland Park-Friendly Theater.”
But I counted few defections in the well-attended debut. That’s enough to give you hope not only for theater, but for humanity.
Durang’s play — the title alone is a delicious bit of nonsense — probably has a limited shelf-life, with time-sensitive references to “shadow government,” Tom Stoppard’s Russian play cycle, Terry Schiavo and “torture memos.” 9/11 may remain a presence in our lives for decades, like Pearl Harbor, but the details surrounding it begin to fade into memory. Torture helps preserve them. It’s a comedy, but an angry comedy, with political history taking center stage.
Durang traffics in “types:” The dithery Leave It to Beaver-esque mom (Brandi Andrade), the Right Wing gun loving Fox News zombie (Terry Vandivort), the volatile Middle Eastern (Nas Medhi) who, even if he isn’t a terrorist, acts like one. (Perhaps his most subversive attack on the Neo-Con ideal of America is this line: “I believe food, electricity and housing should be free.”) None of them are completely innocent, but there’s no doubting Durang’s point-of-view: He’s pushing buttons like crazy. It’s an equally offensive comedy that makes you rot against more than root for.
It’s all pretty genius.
And all pretty well played, too. Lee Jamison hasn’t had a chance to do much comedy, what with serious turns in Equus and Closer to Heaven, but she’s excellent at it, with the timing about open physicality of a young Kim Cattrall. She plays Felicity, a flighty party girl who drunkenly marries Zamir (Medhi), who claims to be “Irish” but is in fact from a Muslim country.
Felicity takes Zamir home to meet her parents (Andrade, Vandivort); dad immediately suspects him of being a terrorist and sets up his own Abu Ghraib-like interrogation cell in his “butterfly room” to squeeze a plot out of him — and possibly launch World War III. “Even if our intelligence is wrong, it’s good foreign policy to bomb [some] countries,” dad declares. You can practically hear those words coming out of Dick Cheney’s mouth.
Although Durang’s use of repetition has a musicality to it, like a coda, the ending, which tries to rewrite everything that came before it, falls flat, and some of the scene changes get awkward. But a few quibbles don’t undercut the strengths of the performances by Jamison, Andrade and the very sexy Medhi. If loving a crazy Muslim is wrong, I don’t want to be right.
Across town you won’t find a less similar show, but one just as easy to recommend. Tommy Tune just turned 72, but to watch the six-and-a-half-foot-tall Texan glide across the Fair Park Music Hall stage, sharing lessons about tap and life from his 50-year-career in show business (which he launched on the very same stage), you’d swear he was still just a kid hoping to make it big with his next audition. There’s a twinkle in his eye that age cannot dim. He’s a living legend of Broadway, and you can feel the history ooze from his every pour.
His showcase performance, Steps in Time, is basically a one-man show that traces his career from local chorus boy to the most honored performer-director in Tony history (nine awards and counting in four categories). You’re fully aware, even before he sings a song with the word “old-fashioned” in the verse, that he’s exactly that: A throwback to the big, splashy book musicals of the past. You can’t really imagine him directing Spring Awakening.
Except you kinda can. Tune sings a Green Day song in this show, arranged as a more traditional Broadway ballad, and while his theatricality man seem old-school, it’s also tremendously effective: Tune’s sentimental reflections on lost loves, on the greatest dancer he ever worked with (Charles “Honi” Coles) and even his post-encore exhibit are almost corny, but so gosh-durned sincere that they bring a tear to your eye. The show’s simplicity serves its star well: Tommy, and his lanky frame and his stories for 90 minutes. All history should be this entertaining.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 18, 2011.