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Betty's Summer Vacation

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Betty's Summer Vacation, Roadworks Productions, at Victory Gardens Theater. In his latest play, Christopher Durang skewers voyeuristic reality TV: rambling and one-dimensional but occasionally insightful, Betty's Summer Vacation is equal parts Big Brother, Hustler, and The Truman Show. Its philosophical flaws are as outrageous as its undisciplined story: a group of contemptible oversexed people, including a pansexual flasher (the excellent Larry Neumann Jr.) and a kindly serial killer (Lance Baker, outstanding as always), observe the innocent Betty (Natasha Lowe, too wispy for us to care) during her cottage getaway.

Director David Cromer's midwest premiere runs high on shock value, including dollops of sexual abuse, dismemberment, rape, castration, and incest; Durang has accented these diversions with the stage version of a laugh track, supplied by a Greek chorus of laughers. In the play's most delightfully outlandish scene (aided by David Swayze's crafty set design), they actually plummet from the ceiling into Betty's living room, further blurring the line between fact and fiction. To Durang's credit, the real audience and the rowdy voices rarely agree on what's funny, which is unnerving.

Puritanical almost to a fault, Durang chastises our culture for its obsession with media hype and celebrity, but the results are as garish as anything on Jenny Jones. Forgetting that one person's crudeness is another one's liberating good time, he offers no alternative, essentially admitting defeat in the battle against vulgarity.

--Erik Piepenburg

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