'Why Torture is Wrong' Review

by: Robert Hurwitt

Why Torture Is Wrong, and the People Who Love Them: Comedy. By Christopher Durang. Directed by Claire Rice. Through Feb. 10. Custom Made Theatre, Gough Street Playhouse, 1622 Gough St., S.F. Two hours, five minutes. $25-$30. (415) 798-2682. www.custommade.org.

The comedy and theatrical invention in “Why Torture Is Wrong, and the People Who Love Them” are as zany and pointed as you’d expect from Christopher Durang. This is, after all, the wicked wit that’s given us “Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You,” “Beyond Therapy,” “Betty’s Summer Vacation” and, now nearing the end of an extended New York run, “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike.”

But it’s the up-to-date topicality of the 2009 play that may surprise those who see the Custom Made Theatre regional premiere at Gough Street Playhouse, where it opened Tuesday. Durang wrote the play as a savage satire on war-on-terror xenophobia and leaders who go to war based on “faulty” or rigged intelligence, as well as plain old male chauvinism - all problems still very much with us. But much of the comedy is as immediate as today’s debates about gun control, pre-emptive drone strikes and (courtesy of “Zero Dark Thirty”) “enhanced” interrogation techniques.

Most of the topical barbs - references to UC Berkeley law Professor John Yoo's torture justifications, an edgy (pre-Colorado cinema disaster) gag about spraying the audience with gunfire - hit their targets well in the Custom Made staging, as does the overall political satire. Director Claire Rice and her uneven cast and designers don’t mine many of the finer points of the comedy and its characters, but some of those problems may get ironed out during the run.

The politics of “Torture” are neatly folded into a rom-com, or its theater of the absurd equivalent. Felicity (an engaging Eden Neuendorf) wakes up in a motel to discover that the stranger in bed with her is her new husband, whom she married when she was drunk or drugged the night before. Zamir, who claims to be Irish, is controlling, evasive about everything from his heritage to his semi-legal means of support and prone to violence (“My male ego is fragile”). As played by Sal Mattos, he’s also a fairly irresistible blend of obnoxious macho entitlement and sexy, charming possibilities.

Not knowing whether he’s merely a lout, a criminal or a possible terrorist, Felicity wants out. Her parents are little help. Luella, her mom (a genially ditzy Jennie Brick), can’t focus on reality. She’s a theater buff, giving Durang plenty of openings for comic barbs about every musical from “A Chorus Line” to “Wicked” and the complete works of Tom Stoppard, Brian Friel, Martin McDonough and Alan Ayckbourn.

Felicity’s father, Leonard (Paul Stout), offers the wrong help. A seemingly harmless butterfly collector, he’s an extreme right-winger (“Did you say something positive about the United Nations?”) with a hair-trigger temper, firearms at the ready and a secret life in a wannabe “shadow government.” As Leonard pursues the terrorist suspect Zamir with the inept help of his smitten, underwear-challenged agent Hildegarde (Teri Whipple), the Rev. Mike (Jonathon Brooks) - a porno filmmaker and part-time minister - and the narrator, Voice (Christopher P. Kelly), get drawn into a plot spinning outrageously out of control.

Not to worry. Durang knows when to rein in the mayhem, using his urbane narrator to help Felicity achieve a felicitous, hopeful ending. The comedy would be sharper and the story more engaging if all the actors could fill out their roles as well as Mattos, Neuendorf and Brooks do, though each of the others has some good moments. It would help even more if Rice used her scenic limitations more effectively, but the breakneck pacing that obscured many comic twists and punch lines on opening night should sort itself out as the actors adjust to their roles. Even with the production’s shortcomings, Durang’s provocative comedy offers considerable rewards.

Robert Hurwitt is The San Francisco Chronicle's theater critic. E-mail: rhurwitt@sfchronicle.com

Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/performance/article/Why-Torture-Is-Wrong-review-4200017.php#ixzz2JzDJdw00
Via: SFGate
'Why Torture Is Wrong' at Custom Made

by: Chad Jones

Critics have called playwright Christopher Durang our “poet laureate of the absurd,” which helps explain a title like “Why Torture Is Wrong, and the People Who Love Them.”

Durang’s 2009 play, written for and premiered at New York’s Public Theater, is a zany comedy about a woman named Felicity who, in a drunken state, marries a man who may or may not be a terrorist. So what would any girl in such a situation do? She takes the new husband home to meet her parents: a mom obsessed with the theater and a dad whose butterfly collection may be a front for his involvement in a shadow government.

The play receives its Bay Area premiere courtesy of Custom Made Theatre in a production helmed by Claire Rice who, like many students of theater, was exposed to Durang in high school and college before moving on to other writers.

"When you first encounter Durang, it’s like a revelation," Rice says on the phone from the San Francisco home she shares with her actor husband. "Durang says things you’ve never thought of in ways you could never think of. His humor is so biting. There are no sacred cows. As you leave college, you tend to leave Durang behind. Now that I’ve come back to him, I can’t believe how fresh and alive his writing is."

Durang is best known for his comedies “Beyond Therapy” and “Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All for You,” but recent years have seen a flurry of activity from the playwright, including his nightclub act Chris Durang and Dawne and his current New York hit “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” at Lincoln Center Theater. Since 1994, he has co-chaired the playwriting program with Marsha Norman at the Juilliard School.

With “Torture,” it seems Durang is less interested in terrorism than he is in vilifying the American obsession with escapism.

"There’s a lot of anger in this play," Rice says. "Durang says escapism is OK and should be allowed, but why are we escaping into these horrible things like torture dramas? Why can’t we escape back into Fred Astaire? Durang lambastes the media and its escapist tactics, harangues them, shames them out. He angrily shakes his fist at them and demands you do, too.”

For the father, who wants to torture his new son-in-law, the escape is Fox News. For the mother, it’s the theater. For a minister, it’s religion and pornography. For the new husband, it’s a lie of the self. “He’s a violent and mean person,” Rice says, “but that’s all a cover for this other person you don’t meet until the end of the play.”

Felicity doesn’t have a specific escape because she’s disconnected.

"Felicity has gotten herself into trouble and must extricate herself," Rice says. "She’s never had to really make a decision in her life. She’s an apathetic character in her mid- to late 20s, and she’s making her way through this absurd situation, bouncing from person to person looking for a way out of her life until she takes control of the play."

When Felicity takes control, she really takes control: She rewinds the play and changes it into a better story line, something she can agree with.

"It’s really kind of amazing," Rice says, "and it’s one of those moments when the audience may or may not be with us. That’s when I hope the joy of watching these wonderful actors and Durang’s comedy keeps them going. I wouldn’t mind if they left the theater saying, ‘I’m not sure what just happened, but I had a good time.’ "

8 p.m. Friday-Saturday. 7 p.m. Sunday. Through Feb. 10. (Previews Friday- Sunday; opens next Thursday. Check website for full schedule.) $15-$30. Custom Made Theatre at the Gough Street Playhouse, 1622 Gough St., S.F. (415) 798-2682. www.custommade.org.

Chad Jones is a freelance writer. E-mail: 96hours@sfchronicle.com

via: SF Gate
Custom Made Theatre Presents the Bay Area Premiere of Christopher Durang’s WHY TORTURE IS WRONG, AND THE PEOPLE WHO LOVE THEM 1/11-2/10 

by: BWW News Desk

Custom Made Theatre presents the Bay Area premiere of Christopher Durang's Why Torture is Wrong, and the People who Love Them. This highly original black comedy centers around a young woman who suspects that her new husband — whom she married while drunk — may be a terrorist. Durang, the crown prince of American absurdists, spins a mirthful, politically infused tale full of outrageous characters. Directed by Claire Rice at Gough Street Playhouse, 1622 Gough Street, San Francisco, January 11 – February 10, 2013.

Why Torture is Wrong…is a hilarious, absurdist offering from the author of Beyond Therapy and Sister Mary Ignatius Explains it All For You.

Directed by Claire Rice

Featuring Jeannie Brick, Christopher P. Kelly, Sal Mattos, Eden Neuendorf, Paul Stout, and Teri Whipple.

Scenic Design by Joshua Saulpaw
Costumes by Amanda Lee Angott
Lighting by Maxx Kurzunski

In Torture… , Durang tells the story of a young woman in crisis: Is her new husband, whom she married when drunk, a terrorist? Or just crazy? Or both? Is her father’s hobby of butterfly collecting really a cover for his involvement in a shadow government? Does her mother go to the theater frequently to seek mental escape, or is she just insane? Add in a minister who directs porno and a ladylike operative whose underwear just won’t stay up, and this black comedy will make you laugh all the way to the waterboarding room.

Although the play carries the aura of revelations of U. S. Government-sanctioned torture during the height of the “War on Terror,” Durang denies that he has created any parallels to historical figures. In an interview with the New York Times, “Durang  railed against Mr. Bush, Mr. Cheney, Mr. Yoo and others at great length, though none of his characters were based on them.”

“’Once I came upon the shadow government idea for the play, I really did think of Cheney, because he was fairly secretive,’ Mr. Durang said. ‘But I also was choosing not to base the people on Bush and Cheney, because I thought that would tie me down too much.’”

Show Times and Tickets

Press Opening: Tuesday, January 15 at 8:00pm

Previews: January 11 and 12 at 8:00pm, January 13 at 7:00 p.m.
Runs:  January 17 – February 10, Thurs-Sat 8:00pm; Sun 7:00pm

General Admission $30
Students/Seniors/TBA members $25
Previews $15-$20

Learn more & buy tickets at (415) 798-CMTC, http://www.custommade.org

Read more: http://sanfrancisco.broadwayworld.com/article/Custom-Made-Theatre-Presents-the-Bay-Area-Premiere-of-Christopher-Durangs-WHY-TORTURE-IS-WRONG-AND-THE-PEOPLE-WHO-LOVE-THEM-111-210-20121205#ixzz2GcYH85oY

via: Broadwayworld.com

Stage Listings: OPEN

by: Robert Avila

Open Shotwell Studios, 3252 19th St, SF; www.brownpapertickets.com. $20. Fri/14-Sat/15 and Mon/17, 8pm. A title like this can mean so many things — at least everywhere else. In San Francisco, it pretty much says polyamorous relationship. Whether that translates into the height of maturity, an escape from bourgeois convention, or the folly of bored hedonists is no doubt case specific. But anything this popular is already suspect to some, including apparently the creators of this sharp, sexy, consistently amusing new comedy, written and directed by San Francisco–based Jeff Bedillion (Country Club Catastrophe) and co-presented by Back Alley Theater and Footloose. The Hunstvilles, Veronica (Katherine Otis) and Duncan (Brian Cybok), are local thirtysomething professionals with a comfortable nest — shared with Veronica’s live-in executive assistant (Julia Lienke) — who agree to spice up their sex life after five years of marriage by allowing each other one-night stands with anonymous strangers. Duncan’s tastes lend themselves to adopting Marin skater kids (Salvadore Mattos) as house slaves, while Veronica, with a little help from gay associate Francisco (Renato Robles), finds herself small-ponding it, meeting straight guys (Luke Wold) in gay bars. A promiscuous love letter to San Francisco, Open comes filled with self-referential humor and winking asides, but the charm is in the raunchy “I Love Lucy, Among Others” sit-com spirit of the piece and the charming cast, headed up by Otis’s powerhouse comedic performance — ribald, sultry, and vulnerable practically at once (even in the midst of one of the more credible and hilarious drunk scenes you’ll see on any stage this year). (Avila)

via: SF Bay Guardian

OPEN reopens!

We’re back by popular demand!

Back Alley Theater and Footloose proudly present
written and directed by Jeff Bedillion

Fridays, Saturdays and MONDAYS
November 30-December 17
@ Shotwell Studios
All shows @ 8PM
tickets are $20 and available at

Thank you to all who came out to see our workshop of OPEN @ Garage. Hopefully, you’ll be able to catch the show again and please encourage your friends and colleagues to come out this December and experience this fun-filled show!

OPEN is a comedy where outrageous encounters of sexual desire and love are played out in real time and through fantasies. Writer, director Jeff Bedillion tells the story of a married couple whose perfect love has hit a lull in the bedroom, so they attempt to keep their bond by agreeing to try an open relationship after five years of monogamy. Veronica and Duncan Huntsville live in present day San Francisco so this opens the rules for play with anyone. Jealousy, deceit, torment and grief are the norm when the permutations of personalities collide and the deviations of behavior override true love’s intentions.

For mature audiences with a freaky side only!

OPEN stars Katharine Otis, Brian Cybok, Julia Lienke, Renato Robles, Luke Wold, and Sal Mattos.
Produced by Back Alley Theater & Mary Alice Fry of Footloose Presents.
Hot Mess 3: Third Time, No Charm

Hot Mess is coming back for round three (oh god why!?), and while I won’t be on stage this time around I *am* now a part of the show’s writing staff, and you’ll get to see some of my work performed this time around! Our show is even better (worse?) than the last one, so be sure to get your tickets before they sell out!


Hot Mess 3: Third Time, No Charm
October 4th, 5th & 6th at 8pm
New Conservatory Theatre Center

After the surprising success of our first two shows, You Never Forget Your First…Hot Mess SF and Hot Mess 2: I Can’t Believe It’s Not Better!, Hot Mess SF has decided to go for the trilogy!

Join San Francisco’s newest sketch comedy group as they stumble-crawl their way into comic madness. It’s all new and completely ridiculous, so grab your purse and turn in your keys cause this is gonna be another HOT MESS!

Featuring our Hot Messy pool of writers, actors and directors…
Carolé Acuña
Giovanna Arieta
Spencer Bainbridge
David Cairns
Siobhan Doherty
Joe Jordan
Nick Lane
Renee LeVesque
Dave Levine
Sal Mattos
Sarah Moser
Kaeli Quick Bainbridge
Chris Quintos Cathcart
Sang S. Kim
Erez Shek
Sara Staley
Griffin Taylor
Evan Wagoner-Lynch

TICKETS $15! Buy online NOW before it gets full and messy http://www.nctcsf.org/press_room/hot_mess_3.htm
Limited tickets might be available at the door.
Back Alley Theater Presents ‘OPEN’ 9/14-9/24

Having worked with Back Alley Theater on their last two productions, Country Club Catastrophe and The Understudies, I’m pleased to say that I’ll be a part of their newest show, a brand new comedy called OPEN.

Here are the details:

Starring: Brian Cybok, Sal Mattos, Katharine Otis, Renato Robles,
Julia Taylor, and Luke Wold.

Runs Friday-Monday, 14-17 and 21-24, all shows at 8pm.

The Garage, 715 Bryant St. @ 5th. Look for the red door!

$20 admission, get your tickets at: http://http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/265988

OPEN is a comic exploration of modern relationships. Set in San Francisco, Duncan and Veronica Huntsville have been married for five years and are experiencing a lull in their sexual relationship. They make the decision to “open” their marriage and explore their sexual curiosities. Both Veronica and Duncan are interested in other men. Hilarity ensues as their selfish endeavors lead to jealousy, distrust, and loathing. Will the couples’ actions destroy their bonds of love and matrimony?
Hot Mess 2: I Can’t Believe It’s Not Better

Somehow May has become a busier month than originally expected.

In addition to the epic Hideo Concert that goes up Memorial Day Weekend alongside Fanimecon in San Jose and Laramie Project: Ten Years Later pickup rehearsals, I’ve gone and added even more to my plate!I’m such a fatty!

I’ve joined a group of funny friends as part of the Hot Mess SF ensemble! Hot Mess SF is San Francisco’s newest sketch comedy group, having made their debut earlier this year, and I’m proud to say that I’ll be joining them for their second big mess of a performance Hot Mess 2: I Can’t Believe It’s Not Better!

I don’t often get to flex my comedic muscles, but boy do I love to. Rehearsals have already left me sufficiently breathless and I shudder to think what the actual performances will do to me!

Hot Mess 2: I Can’t Believe It’s Not Better! runs May 17th-19th at the Exit Theatre (Stage Left) in downtown San Francisco. Just a block away from Powell St.

Get your tickets here: https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/246635

And don’t forget to get tickets for the fast approaching Hideo Concert and The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later TOUR as well.

Hideo Comes to San Jose for 4 Performances in May!

by: Blair Baker

I hinted at this in my last post, but now it’s one hundred and ten percent official: we’ll be doing not just one but FOUR performances of the full-scale show at the historic Montgomery Theater in Downtown San Jose alongside FanimeCon 2012 in May!

I am SUPER excited. We’ve never had an opportunity to do more than one show at a time, and now we’re doing four. FOUR!! And even if you’ve seen one of our previous performances, you won’t want to miss this year’s show. We’ve made some minor tweaks to the story and have added a new musical number – and possibly some audience involvement  – in addition to swapping out one of the songs used last year. OMG CAN’T WAIT!

Tickets are $25 and may be purchased via the SJTix Box office or head over to our Tickets page to equip some Hideo goodies along with your tickets. We’ll also be in the Dealer’s Hall during Fanime – playing live music and taking requests! – so if you’re planning on attending the con, be sure to stop by our table to say howdy! Oh, and to buy tickets (and maybe even a t-shirt) too, of course. ^_^

via: Hideo Concert

And can I just say, this has been one of my favorite projects to be a part of. If you love live music, theatre, anime, video games, or all of the above you will NOT want to miss this one.

Laramie, retrospectively

by Richard Dodds

When the name of a town becomes symbolic for a horrific event, especially when it involves the youth who are supposed to inherit its earth, it’s not surprising that the citizens will shudder each time an important anniversary approaches. Laramie, Wyo. Columbine, Colo. And, in the future, Sanford, Fla.

"Laramie is a community, not a project," complained an editorial in the city’s daily newspaper on the 10th anniversary of Matthew Shepard’s murder. That was obviously a slam at The Laramie Project, shaped from interviews conducted in Laramie by members of the Tectonic Theatre Project in the weeks following the 1998 murder. It was a powerful piece that showed how theater could be both politically timely and enduring.

The newspaper, the unfortunately-named Boomerang, knew that Tectonic members were back in Laramie conducting follow-up interviews on the decadal anniversary. And the sentiments heard by troupe members from many of their interviewees were variations on, “It’s time to move on,” and, “Let the poor boy rest in peace,” and, “This could have happened anywhere.”

These are among the easily understood reactions in The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later, in an engrossing production at New Conservatory Theatre Center. But there are also unsettling revisionist histories developing. It was a simple robbery gone wrong. Shepard should have realized his captors were tweaking on meth. Homophobia was not a factor. The murderers themselves, not available to the Tectonic team the first time around, pretty much put the kibosh on these theories with no apparent self-serving motives.

The scenes with the confessed murderers, based on separate interviews with Russell Henderson and Aaron McKinney, are by far the most breath-catching moments in a play with its fair share of theatrical reportage both intellectually and emotionally stimulating. Henderson and McKinney, former friends and now “cordial” prisonmates, offer stunningly different personages after 10 years in prison.

Each perpetrator is convincingly brought to life: Alex Hero as the remorseful Henderson, and Sal Mattos as the brutish McKinney, even though we have already seen these actors in a variety of contrasting roles. Each of the eight cast members plays multiple and often-recurring roles, and simple journalistic-style introductions help keep straight the who’s who.

Among the other memorable character recreations are Heidi Wolf as the first out lesbian in the Wyoming legislature, and as Matthew’s activist mother Judy; Natasha Noel as one of the original police investigators; Diana Brown and Timothy Beagley as Tectonic interviewers; Patrick Barresi as Tectonic Artistic Director Moises Kaufman; and Chris Quintos as a clueless University of Wyoming student.

Director Sara Staley keeps this docudrama moving simply, briskly, and empathetically through its many scenes on a simply furnished set by Ron Gasparinetti. It is a set built to travel, and will head to inland territories on a June tour to Grass Valley, Fairfield, Modesto, and Fresno.

The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later has messages of many moods. Triumph, denial, survival, anger, hope, and hate are all a part of the story. In the end, it’s hard to argue with the Laramie resident who defensively says, “This could have happened anywhere.”

The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later will run at New Conservatory Theatre Center through April 29. Tickets are $25-$45. Call 861-8972 or go to www.nctcsf.org.

via the Bay Area Reporter