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Spouting Off


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Bailiwick Repertory

If you read what I had to say about Christmas last week, then you know I'm inclined to rant. In fact, you could probably gather as much from anything I've written in the last year: spouting off's been a leitmotif of mine lately. I don't think of myself as an angry person, but I do seem to spend a lot of my time barking back at the TV set and howling at the papers.

Which may be why I feel a certain affinity for Christopher Durang and his recent comedy, Laughing Wild. Best known as the jolly blasphemer who gave us Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All for You, Durang specializes in bitterly funny diatribes, just ever so lightly dusted in dramaturgy. A theater of spouting off. In Laughing Wild he's not only found a structure that allows him to spout hilariously across an almost unlimited range of topics, but also to double back and contemplate--seriously, even touchingly--the nature of the spouteur.

Specifically, the urban spouteur. Set up rather like David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross--with a first act consisting of two separate monologues, and a second act in which the monologists interact--Laughing Wild gives us a couple of New Yorkers in deep anomie. The female of the pair is certifiable: a charming but crazy soul with a history of suicide attempts and mental-ward commitments, who starts out telling us about her adventures in the tuna fish aisle at a Gristede's supermarket and quickly segues into discussions of taxicab etiquette, street musicians, AA meetings, college, the famous Edie Sedgwick, the inscrutable Sally Jessy Raphael, the key to existence, and the art of wild laughter.

"I want Dr. Ruth Westheimer and Mother Teresa to fight to the death in the Colosseum!!!" she says. "And then I want Ronald Reagan hung upside down over sulphur emissions and made to inhale toxic waste, just like those animals who are made to smoke three million cigarettes; and then I want Mayor Koch made to eat Westway [the west-side construction project]; and then I want the world to come to a complete and total end, ka-plooey, ka-ploppy, ka-plopp! AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

"Do you get how I feel?"

The male is in better control of himself, but no less alienated. A sort of new-age hobbyist who takes personality workshops and recites affirmations ("I am the predominant source of energy in my life"), he starts out giving a lecture on positive thinking but is almost immediately overcome by anxiety--spouting off about acid rain, Chernobyl, AIDS, God's probable position on AIDS, a random murder in Montana, and TV stars with alliterative first and last names: "Lorenzo Lamas, Erik Estrada, Suzanne Somers. Cher."

As it happens, this is the very man with whom the crazy woman had her Gristede's tuna fish adventure. And as it turns out, she's not finished with him yet. First she creeps into his lecture, then she invades his dreams.

Until finally their dreams have meshed.

Meshed not in a violent or exploitive way, interestingly enough, but sweetly. Gently. Durang took the title for Laughing Wild from a line in Happy Days--Samuel Beckett's play about Winnie, who tries to keep her chin up while sinking in a mound of dirt--and in a way, Laughing Wild is an answer to Happy Days. It's Happy Days with a happy ending. A more hopeful view. Durang, for all his blasphemy, is actually a classic liberal in the Jules Feiffer vein: no matter how awful things are, improvements can be made. And so, where Beckett's inclined to leave Winnie alone and sinking, Durang finds a way to save her. If only in a dream.

This isn't a rap at Durang for being softer than Beckett. Just the opposite. It's a testimonial to him for his kindness. Why does anybody rant, after all? What are we hoping to get out of it? Only this: that somebody will come along and say, Yes, you're right, the world is ugly and you've suffered for its ugliness and you shouldn't suffer anymore. Let me help you. That Durang lets his crazy woman and anxious man get this empathy from each other isn't a cop-out. It's wish fulfillment.

Even those who don't need any wish fulfillment may want to see this Bailiwick production for the sake of Kate Goehring's performance as the crazy woman. Solid yet continually unexpected, Goehring's work forced me to reevaluate the character's sanity at every turn--which is exactly what it should do. Though thoroughly charming as the anxious man, Russell Alan Rowe relies far too heavily on a limited vocabulary of gestures.

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