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Durang’s ‘Laughing Wild’ Is a Real High-Wire Act

Christopher Durang, who gave you “Sister Mary Ignatius,” “Beyond Therapy” and “The Marriage of Bette and Boo,” is back to rattle your theater senses with his newest play, “Laughing Wild,” opening Saturday at the Tiffany Theater in West Hollywood.

“Like most of his writing, it’s brutally funny,” said director Dennis Erdman (“How the Other Half Loves”), who also staged “Bette and Boo” at Los Angeles Theatre Center last year. “But there’s also a foundation of pain, which makes it very hard to act. If there’s too much pain on the surface, it smothers the comedy. If there’s too little, it’s flaccid. So it’s a fine line to travel, a real high-wire act.”

Walking the wire in the two-character comedy are Jean Smart of TV’s “Designing Women” and Harry Groener of “Dear John,” who were also acting buddies in college.

“The characters have no relation to each other on the planet except that they both inhabit it,” Erdman said. “She explodes; he implodes. She has no boundaries; he’s obsessed with boundaries. But both are struggling to survive in a world of chaos, missed connections, injustice. . . . In the end, there are no easy answers. The world is what the world is. But the characters are still asking questions, trying to find a way to deal with each other. And yet the pain is never purged.”

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And he calls this a comedy? “It is a comedy,” the director said earnestly. “It is. It really is.”

Also this month:

Tonight: One middle-aged and one young married couple exchange notes on modern gender roles in “Ruby, Ruby, Sam, Sam,” opening at Hollywood’s Cast-at-the-Circle.

Thursday: Murder and greed are the main ingredients in the new comedy “The Heirs,” opening at the West End Playhouse in Van Nuys.

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Friday: Mary Gallagher dramatizes the plight of illegal immigrants in the 40-character “De Donde?” (in Spanish, “Where are you from?”), opening at Friends and Artists Theatre in Hollywood.

Saturday: Two yuppie couples--one straight, one gay--try to get past the superficial good life in the Broadway hit “Eastern Standard,” coming to the Coast Playhouse in West Hollywood.

May 15: Tony Kushner’s work in progress, “Millennium Approaches,” exploring the clash of a changing society and morality, opens at Taper, Too in Hollywood.

May 15: Santa Monica Playhouse Young Professionals Company presents “Mezzanie,” a drama on the darker side of being a teen-ager.

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May 16: Sam Shepard’s tale of battling brothers, “True West,” opens at North Hollywood’s Gnu Theatre.

May 18: Durang’s dark, dark comedy on modern parenting, “Baby With the Bathwater,” comes to the Waterfront Stage on the Santa Monica Pier.

May 19: Len Jenkin’s “Dark Ride,” a theatrical journey through the human unconscious, opens at Beyond Baroque in Venice.

May 21: Closed on Broadway but back in Hollywood, the Michael Bennett/Marvin Hamlisch award-winning musical “A Chorus Line” opens at Las Palmas Theatre.

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May 23: “The Glass Menagerie,” Tennessee Williams’ tender story of Laura Wingfield and her gentleman caller, is revived at East West Players in Hollywood.

May 24: Lovers pop out of each other’s hearts--and beds--in Timothy Mason’s contemporary romantic comedy, “Only You,” opening at 2nd Stage in Hollywood.

May 25: “The Pixley Caper,” Dan Roth’s affectionate takeoff on the ‘40s-style detective novels of Raymond Chandler, opens at the Attic Theatre in Hollywood.

May 25: Chicago’s offbeat igLoo, the Theatrical Group arrives with Paul Peditto’s “A Fire Was Burning Over the Dumpling House One Chinese New Year,” at 6543 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood.

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