PROVIDENCE, RI – Pawtucket's Gamm Theater and Warren's 2nd Story have come up with plays by very different authors. Christopher Durang is male and 62. Sarah Ruhl, female and 37. But both write wacky comedies that try to make you think.
As the winter theater season winds down the Gamm and 2nd Story have . . . well, you might say they've gone off the deep end.
At the Gamm they are taking on the idea of torture not being an unfortunate necessity in wartime. At 2nd Story the theme is nothing short of manners, marriage and masturbation. But, no, I don't think you have to shoo the kids from the room. For both of these comedies have real points to make even as they put forth a fusillade of controversial actions and themes.
At 2nd Story, we have "In the Next Room or The Vibrator Play" by Sarah Ruhl, one of America's best playwrights at combining the practical and the fantastical. You'll perhaps remember her "Dead Man's Cell Phone" at Trinity Rep which asked about the odd disconnection fostered by the new- fangled digital world.
In "Next Room," Ruhl has rolled backward to the 1880s, and the strictures and confusions of Victorian times. Her theme seems to be the fear of striving females, and rising female sexuality.
Electricity, you see, has just been developed and a quirky doctor has found a new way to, ahh, stimulate his patients. Yes, he has invented the vibrator and for his mostly female charges the results are remarkable. And they set off other outcomes of unexpected depth.
Playwright Ruhl, a master's degree graduate of Brown University, usually sends her plays in several disparate directions. "Next Room" is no exception. At 2nd Story visiting director Vanessa Gilbert has adapted a serious approach that perhaps does not keep up with all of Ruhl's flashing angles.
This production seems not to have coaxed enough of the play's loopy humor into the open. Instead it is "earnest" at the expense of innate comedy beneath weighty material. Still, there are witty performances especially by Rae Mancini and Gabby Sherba as those exploring females. "Next Room," then, can set off sparks - if you are willing to hang in and make many of the connections yourself.
Truth to tell, you have to do that -to a lesser extent - with Christopher Durang's absolutely hilarious comedy-with-a- point "Why Torture Is Wrong, and the People who Love Them."
Over the years, the veteran author of "Sister Mary Ignatius Explains it All for You," and "The Marriage of Bette and Boo," has specialized in zany comedies underlined with societal or political insight. But with "Torture" he has outdone himself. This gaufawing out loud work is one of those plays where the actors have to hold back their lines to allow the audience to laugh on.
I can hardly go into all the plot turns. But there is a wacko marriage, a crazed pair of parents - he an All American at violence, she nuts for the Theatah, and there's a minister who makes dirty movies on the side, He a porn-again Christian, he says.
The result is hilarity of the first order, It's coupled with Durang's view that America over-embraces violence personified in "Torture" by "enhanced" techniques that, believe it or not, are extremely funny and pointed. There's a terrific cast led by Sam Babbitt, Wendy Overly and Casey Seymour Kim.
And, while "Torture" does go on a little longer then needed, it is a splendid combination of seriousness and LOL fun.
Want to go?
"In the Next Room" continues at 2nd Story Theatre through May 29th. "Why Torture Is Wrong" is at the Gamm Theatre through June 5th
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