“Two Durang Shorts” brings the sitcom laughs

There were two Durang shorts — but this picture displays only one.

If short sitcoms are your style, you’ll have no lack of laughs at “Two Durang Shorts” in the tiny yet contained JE theater.

“Two Durang Shorts” one a parody, one a sitcom, oddly pair together to provide a full hour of attempted hilarity. The first delivers better if you have seen Tennessee Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie” which it mimics. If you haven’t, you can still be touched by its insight into caring for loved ones.

Amanda Chang ’13 directs the first of two Christopher Durang’s short plays, “For Whom the Southern Bell Tolls.” The story parodies Tennessee Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie.” If you haven’t seen the original, Durang’s take might lose you at moments meant to entertain. Amanda, a Southern mother self-described as “charming and vivacious,” is frustrated with her highly sensitive and limping son Lawrence who refuses to socialize and only enjoys playing with his glass cocktail stirrers. Lawrence’s older brother Tom brings home a female caller that Amanda hopes will take a liking to Lawrence but turns out to be an almost-deaf lesbian. Although none of the characters are particularly likable, with the possible exception of Lawrence (because he is just so pitiful), Ngozi Ukazu ’13, who plays Amanda, is worth the watch, for she brilliantly portrays the dutiful mother who — although she seems cruel at times due to her exasperation with her son’s failings — is able to overcome her frustration and humor her son’s childish ways. Although the play might be going for humor, it succeeds in finding a glimmer of hope in the struggle and sadness that results from the obligation of caring for others.

The second play, “Wanda’s Visit”, is like a really good episode of long-running sitcom “How I Met Your Mother.” Marsha and Jim are in a slump after 13 years of marriage when a letter arrives from Jim’s old classmate, Wanda, asking to visit. Predictably, Wanda is still in love with Jim, and Marsha is jealous while Jim enjoys the attention. However, there’s a twist. Wanda may or may not be psychotic. Ali Viterbi ’14 creates a character that goes in and out of sanity — one moment she hysterically laments Jim’s marriage to Marsha, the next she claims to accept it. For some reason, the couple puts up with Wanda’s blabbering on and on about her years of promiscuous behavior and incarcerated boyfriends, all of which Viterbi delivers with such ease you might be afraid that she’s actually Wanda in real life (I hope not). Charles Margossian ’15 and Katharine Konietzko ’14 also do an excellent job as captives of Wanda’s madness — Margossian playfully hops from dutiful husband to intrigued recipient of flattery, while Konietzko captures the annoyed wife with spunk. Wanda’s unwelcome visit ends up helping Jim and Marsha’s sex life, and it might just help yours. The play speaks to the ability of an extremely unpleasant event to remind us to appreciate our humdrum lives.

These plays might seem to have nothing in common beyond their author and their suburban settings. And yet there is some logic to the juxtaposition: both tales center on the importance of sustaining the family. Both plays feature characters like ones on TV: larger-than-life and archetypal. The sparse stage-setting helps amplify the characters’ idiosyncracies, and in the contained JE theater, there is added pressure and higher stakes for the simple plotlines. Despite their status as caricatures for the sake of comededy, this cast shines light on the values and relationships that tie us together.

“Two Durang Shorts” will run in the JE Theater on Saturday at 2 p.m.

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