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Why Torture Is Wrong, and the People Who Love Them

Christopher Durang’s Loony Tunes aesthetic — with the help of Daniel Henning’s perfectly modulated direction — is swashed onto our so-called war on terror. Thank goodness Durang has moved beyond family dysfunction. Still, you’d think that by now our recent history, propelled by some deranged might-makes-right cabal from a powerful coven of loons, has been exhausted by American playwrights. Durang’s outrage and piety, however, are channeled into a breath of comedic napalm, something like a cross between The Marriage of Bette and Boo and Dr. Strangelove. Durang has now joined ranks with Dario Fo. Sweet Felicity (stylish Rhea Seehorn, trying to be sensible in a world with no sense) wakes up in bed with a stranger, Zamir (Sunil Malhotra), after a night out at a bar. Turns out, Zamir slipped her a drug, raped and married her — none of which she remembers. The “priest” was Zamir’s friend, porno filmmaker Reverend Mike (Nicholas Brendon, sort of like Owen Wilson with a slow-mo brain). Zamir has anger-management issues and feels badly that most of the women in his family are dead. This is cold comfort for Felicity. Yet she finds herself compelled to defend her “husband” when her Dick Cheney–emulating father, Leonard (Mike Genovese) — a volunteer in the “shadow government” — drags Zamir him into the torture chamber he’d been claiming is a private closet for his butterfly collection. Narrator and power drill–wielding torture-room assistant Loony Tunes (Alec Mapa) encourages Leonard to “bweak a finger, bweak a finger” — all of which is based on a misunderstanding by Leonard’s spy, Hildegard (Catherine Hicks, spending a good portion of the play with underwear swishing around her ankles), who overhearing Zamir’s conversation about a porno movie believes he’s describing a terrorist plot. Durang reruns the ending a couple of times, trying to capture the moment where it all — “it” being the sad plight of our country — went so wrong. I particularly enjoyed Christine Estabrook as Leonard’s blissed-out, seething wife, Luella, who can’t stop talking about the theater, even while torture is being committed upstairs, because theater is what’s “real.” And what has she seen lately? “Two-hundred fifty plays by Martin McDonagh and David Hare.” Britain of course dominates our theater’s new plays, obviously because “Americans are stupid.” Durang is getting a lot off his chest, and off ours. The laughter he generates is from nonsense about nonsense, unnervingly true and cathartic, and beautifully performed. Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd. (2nd floor), Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru March 14. (323) 661-9827.
Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Starts: Feb. 6. Continues through March 14, 2010

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