'Durang in Duet:' Two short plays, two humorous parodies of family life

“Durang in Duet”  Presented by Black Box Players Location 820 e. Genesee, Syracuse When  Feb. 24- March 3 Tickets Free with reservation Reservations blackboxplayerstickets@gmail.com GRR Review By  Amy Brueckman

The crowd at Black Box Players productions always seem to know each other and delight in watching performances of their peers. Though personal connections between actors and audience members might explain the excessive laughter at often undeserving jokes, Saturday's performance of Durang in Duet had humor in all the right moments with a touch of seriousness on the side.

For this production, the Players lined up two of award-winning playwright Christopher Durang's plays to play back to back for a pleasurable evening of theatre in the bowels of Syracuse Stage.

Opening the night, “Canker Sores and Other Distractions” tells the story of a divorced couple who meet in a restaurant after a ten year hiatus, only to remember why they split up in the first place.

Martin, (Joseph Fierberg) an expressive and slightly twitchy man, decides that he is still in love with his wife, Prunella (Chloe Rodabaugh). Prunella, who looks and acts every bit the high-maintenance trophy wife, concurs after letting word slip that her car is broken and the house needs repairs. Is it really love she's after? Not likely.

A lover's quarrel eventually ensues and what started out as funny banter ends up in frustration between an ex-couple who still can't get along. The humorous tone of the play turns a bit more serious and we're left with Martin's melodramatic line, “Life is hopeless.”

The functional restaurant set, including two beautifully lit suspended windows, quickly changed into the living room for the next play, “For Whom the Southern Bell Tolls,” a parody of Tennessee Williams' “The Glass Menagerie.” In this version of the story, single mother Amanda (Alliy Drago), is still trying to marry off her socially awkward child to a fellow employee of her older son's. But instead of a daughter who collects glass figures and her all-American love interest, we are introduced to Lawrence (Andy Striph), the lovable hypochondriac who collects glass cocktail stirrers and Ginny (Hayley Palmaer), the manly, spitting, nearly deaf lesbian.

As contrary as their personalities may seem, Ginny is the only one who gets Lawrence to momentarily forget his fabricated asthma and gimpy leg. In her gruff but friendly manor, she diagnoses Lawrence with a lack of self confidence and teaches him how to initiate a conversation. Funny enough, she uses the line, “How you doin,'” with a swagger comparable to Joey Tribbiani. Palmaer's sauntering portrayal of Ginny and happy-go-lucky expressions are a comedic relief to the tension between Amanda and her children.

Though a short monologue near the end of the play by Tom (Cody Hernden) was supposed to sum up the emotions of the play, it was Drago's dynamic character that ultimately stole the show. In her tight-fitted dress and towering stilettos, she spewed her selfish discontent about her life and her disappointments with her children. We're not supposed to likeher character, but her accent and quick (albeit politically incorrect) remarks were enough to win over the audience.

Together, these plays put a comedic spin on terrible family situations. Divorce isn't fun and a single mother raising two vastly different children isn't exactly a picnic either. The Black Box Players add enough sarcasm and humor to these short glimpses of life, and you can discuss it with the rest of the theatre kids when they meander to Phoebe's afterward for the SU Drama cabaret performances.

All photos by Rebecca Gazzaille.