THEATER REVIEW:

In Glendale Community College's presentation of “The Durang Menagerie,” the zaftig Amy Ackerman opens the evening as the eponymously titled “Mrs. Sorken.”

“Dear theatergoers, welcome, and how lovely to see you,” she trills. And with that, we're off on a celebration and lampoon of theater, from the Greek classics to the works of American icons like Eugene O'Neill.

“The Durang Menagerie” is a collection of one-acts by America's master absurdist, Christopher Durang, in which he parodies theater and its adherents in all their self-import and overblown metaphor, in a loopy, hilarious riff on actors and audience.

Mrs. Sorken sets the stage, so to speak, with Ackerman's cheerfully dotty matron rhapsodizing on the entire Dionysian experience. Mrs. Sorken's convoluted explanation of why theater takes us to such artistic heights manages to somehow connect, in a six-degrees-of-separation way, the Greek god of stage, photosynthesis and the declaration, “Dramamine cures us of the nausea of life.”

Ackerman has a terrific physical presence, and more performing experience should help her to lose some unnecessary mannerisms and really connect with the words. The second piece, “For Whom the Southern Belle Tolls,” turns on its head American playwright Tennessee Williams' “The Glass Menagerie.” The delicate Laura becomes Aren Soulahian's terrified Lawrence with brother Tom bringing home the booming-voiced Kim Turnbull as the “Feminine Caller.” Unfortunately, the Feminine Caller is of another persuasion and, despite her best encouragement, is not the woman to make a man out of Lawrence.

Soulahian shines as the malingering Mama's Boy, wondrously introducing his collection of glass swizzle sticks (“I call this one Blue, because it's.?.?.? blue.”). Ackerman does the honors as Mama Amanda, desperate to get rid of her panty-waist son (“It's not that I'm bitter, dear. I just hate my life.”).

Durang famously rejected his Catholic schoolboy upbringing, plumbing its evil secrets to write some of the funniest American plays on record, such as “Beyond Therapy” and “Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All for You.”

He is our Yankee Ionesco, our bargain-basement Beckett, and the best Durang performances are when they play at focused high energy, just this side of over the top.

“Desire, Desire, Desire,” manages to combine Williams' “Streetcar Named Desire,” “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” David Mamet's “Glengarry Glen Ross,” Samuel Beckett's “Waiting for Godot” and Mary Chase's “Harvey.”

This delicious bouillabaisse can be madcap Marx Brothers fare with Amanda Fontoura's Blanche pouncing on Ryan Rogers' Young (“Young, young, young”) Man the moment he shows up (note to Rogers — consider a dialect coach). The last act, “The Actor's Nightmare,” is just that — an actor, cleverly identified from the audience, who suddenly must act in a play he doesn't know, in his under trousers. Anyone can empathize with Stephen Davalos' George, who doesn't know if he is supposed to play Elyot in Noel Coward's “Private Lives,” Shakespeare's “Hamlet” or Sir Thomas More in “A Man for All Seasons.”

Parker's Sarah Siddons won't give George an inch, repeating his cues in ever-more-threatening tones, an executioner ominously appears and Fontoura's Dame Ellen Terry drives George to further hysteria, until the poor chap is reduced to a quivering, blithering Everyman, kneeling in a spotlight screaming, “LINE!”

In his notes, director Larry Biederman claims that parody is an act of love and, in fact, a necessary part of literary and artistic evolution. But who knew that expanded consciousness could be so much fun?


?MELONIE MAGRUDER is a journalist and screenwriter who founded an English-language theater company in Paris, a project undertaken for the art, not the money.

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