This is a terrific little project put together by a bunch of talented young VCA graduates just now launched upon the world: it's an evening of smart and energetic theatre, and a very funny look back at the pop and politics of the eighties.
The play is Christopher Durang’s Laughing Wild, one from the Durang heyday. It's about two socially marginalised people struggling to survive amid the absurdities and endless woe of the modern world. It has a fairly primitive three-act structure – basically two monologues with a strange meeting in the third – but thrills with its rapid-fire satire and calvalcade of provocations.
The first monologue (Rani Pramesti) is a work of genius in miniature. Modelled distantly on Winnie from Beckett's Happy Days, it's delivered by an out-of-work, mentally unstable New York woman, up to her neck in frustration and loneliness, who one day punches out a random guy in the supermarket canned-tuna aisle. This opening is so good, so full of this wonderful, desperate, cultured, dangerous, witty, hysterical character, that I think even Durang surprised himself, and didn't quite know how to follow it up.
In the second monologue we hear from the man she knocked down (Dan Last). It's a less original and surprising creation, leaning heavily on familiar-sounding Durang rants about childhood trauma, American attitudes toward homosexuality, Catholic hypocrisy and AIDs, but it's also an effective and moving reflection, in a sad-funny way, on the impossible quest for perfect happiness.
Then there's the third act. The Christopher Durang of 1987 would, I think, be surprised to find this script still being performed almost thirty years later and in another part of the world. There's something improvised and provisional about its conclusion. Durang, especially in his work from the 1980s, often takes wild leaps into the ridiculous and surreal; it's his way of highlighting the absurd attitudes of politicians, religious leaders, celebrities and loud-mouthed moralists everywhere, as well as masking his own tendency toward moralising. But the third act of this demented comedy seems more than usually disconnected and unfathomable, with a slapped together, throw-it-all-in-the-air kind of silliness.
This production is so clean and simple and direct, however, that they somehow put it back together. Rani Pramesti is a revelation as the demented young woman, manic but eloquent. Dan Last has more trouble: the role was originally performed by Durang himself, and I'm sure only Durang himself knows what to make of it. But Last is at least very honest and engaging as the gentle depressive trying to pin a smile to his face while looking for meaning in a personality workshop.
Holly May's costumes are eye-catching (especially her extravagent Infant of Prague) and apt, while Caitlyn Staples' slick lighting highlights the all-round sophistication of this highly recommended show.