Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Get Some Laughs with Torture

The Theater Project captures all the zany darkness of Why Torture Is Wrong and the People Who Love Them in an hilarious and perceptively staged production at Union County College in Cranford. This 2009 off Broadway hit written by Christopher Durang opens with Felicity (Meghan Murray), a newlywed bride, awakening (in a vertical bed that makes an interesting scene extraordinary) next to her new husband, Zamir (Phil Eichinger), a complete, and somewhat unsavory, stranger. Shaken, Felicity heads to her parents' home in Maplewood, but the parents only make matters worse. Dad (Gary Glor) is a paranoid serving in a self created shadow government while Mom (Harriett Trangucci) is paralyzed into a life of theater babble – or maybe it's genius to those who really know their theater.

Mr. Durang mounts an assault on the fourth wall that begins with some odd (and very funny) PA announcements, reminiscent of MASH, and escalates into a strobe lit attack on the fabric of the space-time continuum. The last few minutes may actually get a little too zany, even a little too saccharine, but it's a long ride. Most of the journey is a surprising, engaging and playful tug of war with the characters jumping in and out of their theatrical reality, all while serving up Durang's dark brew of acerbic wit.

The Theater Project, a professional company based at UCC, and Artistic Director Mark Spina make a habit of reviving shows that are just the right fit for the resources available and then producing them creatively. Every dollar spent seems to produce two dollars in impact on the stage.

The entire cast excels. Mr. Eichinger wisely chooses not to go too far over the top as Zamir, giving the show a necessary secondary anchor. Mr. Glor and Ms Trangucci make the most of roles that require both comedic and dramatic deftness amid the spiraling madness. Ms Murray handles the central role of the non-crazy well, but even she can't quite take enough sweetness out of a final scene that turns preachy in a contradiction of all that has gone before it.

Torture is playing Thursday-Sunday nights until August 1. This reviewer is not the only fan, the audience was laughing out loud throughout most of the show.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Times Slaps Doc Gurby Again

First post in a while, spurred on by duty as the official blog of Turkmenistan:

Turkmenistan: President Says Private Newspapers to be Allowed - And why not? Doc Gurby has nothing to hide. Every change this guy has made has been pro-Democracy, pro-liberalization. Even the NY Times has finally begun to recognize this:
Since the 2006 death of his autocratic predecessor, Mr. Berdymukhammedov
has taken steps toward liberalization, removing bans on institutions from the
Internet to the opera.

Yet still, the Times cannot resist the gratuitous slap:
But he controls power in the one-party state, and rights groups say reforms
are cosmetic.

Who are these unnamed rights groups? Is it really news that Doc isn't changing things fast enough to suit everyone?

There is news here, a real story, not a silly tag line. Where is Doc headed, what is the plan?. Will he keep the brakes on forever, or does he want to transform Turkmenistan into a functioning democracy during his lifetime? For many autocrats, the answe depends on one key fact - is there a relative or protege whom the autocrat wants to establish as a successor? If yes, the shift to democracy is limited. If no, then maybe Doc really wants to have democracy up and running by the time he retires. What has the Times said about Doc's family? About favored proteges? Nothing. It's a lot easier to write tag lines about rights groups, no thought required.