Review: The Gamm's Torture is front-loaded

Rights and wrongs
By BILL RODRIGUEZ  |  May 12, 2011

Black humor sure is better than no humor at all. What do you do with the disproved defenses of torture besides get angry? In Why Torture Is Wrong, and the People Who Love Them, playwright Christopher Durang makes bloody good fun of the misguided patriots who think the practice is fine and dandy.

The Gamm Theatre is staging the production, directed by artistic director Tony Estrella (through June 5), and the tricky topic is in fine hands. In 2007 they impressed and informed us with Enhanced Interrogation Techniques, a series of short plays on the topic.

Durang has been entertaining us with various plights and parodies for decades, and the titles of some of his plays — Beyond Therapy, 'dentity Crisis — reveal a penchant for psychological examination. Other plays — Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You, The Nature and Purpose of the Universe — display his yearning for final answers (OK, the ironic understanding that there aren't any).

Why Torture Is Wrong has an uproarious first act that employs far more skillful storytelling than his early plays, which indulged in laughs at the expense of character and continuity. It's well worth the ticket price, and crumpled tips should litter the stage for these actors' delightful performances. The second act, however, crumbles. Durang didn't know how to end his play or resolve its questions, and it's embarrassing to watch him flapping his hands like a helpless schoolgirl. Well, he has a character named Felicity do it for him.

Casey Seymour Kim plays Felicity marvelously and frenetically, maintaining a character always on the edge of hysteria, keeping us on the brink of charging up to place a comforting arm around her shoulders. Felicity is trapped in a family from, if not Hell, then Purgatory. Her mother Luella (Wendy Overly) is a walking balancing act of picture-perfect-homemaker calm and the suppressed rage of wobbly-smile oblivion. Felicity's father Leonard (Sam Babbitt) is a gun-toting wacko, known to shoot children entering his house unexpectedly, his excuse being that they were "dressed oddly" (it was Halloween) so he thought they might be Mexicans.

But at first we see Felicity waking in bed one morning and shrieking because there's a man next to her. The groggy Zamir (Alexander Platt) explains that, oh boy, was she drunk the night before at Hooters. He shows her a marriage certificate and explains that this nice minister, who is also a porn producer on the side, did the honors. (As the Reverend Mike, Gary Lait Cummings gets the best line of the evening: "God created sex and He watches it. So why shouldn't we?")

Zamir is hoping that Felicity's father will buy them a house and set him up in business, and he pretends to be enraged every time she mentions annulment. He claims to have a tiger of a temper — "All the women in my family are dead!" — but Platt and director Estrella wisely play him like a harmless pussycat, which enhances the irony of the eventual suspicion that he is a terrorist.

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