Dorset Review

Mary Bacon and Dan Butler in the Dorset Theatre Festival production of “Laughing Wild” by Christopher Durang.

MANCHESTER — Imagine if people said everything they thought they when thought it. Of course, in the outrageous playwright Christopher Durang’s hands, the characters would be demented – but uncomfortably like ourselves.

Dorset Theatre Festival opened its production of Durang’s 1987 comedy “Laughing Wild” Saturday at its outdoor theater at the Southern Vermont Arts Center. Brilliant performances by its stars and imaginative direction made it delightful and at times outrageously funny. Performances continue through July 31.

After a year’s hiatus, one of Vermont’s foremost professional theaters has returned to live in-person performances. But like all of Vermont’s professional theaters, all of its summer productions are presented outdoors due to Actors’ Equity Association’s COVID-19 guidelines.

“Laughing Wild” enjoys the travails of two people, a woman who is cackling mad, and a man who is equally unmoored. And what makes the play both unsettling and terribly funny is that we — if our inner thoughts were easily exposed — could easily be one of them.

The Woman, unnamed life the man, begins by sharing the mess that is her life in general, and an incident in the grocery store in particular. She recalls finding herself waiting for a man in front of the tuna fish to finish and move along, while her mind goes through a litany of approaches to the situation. Finally, frustrated with all her — imagined — approaches, she hits him over the head, swears at him and a nearby crying baby, and she’s off — and so are we.

Before she’s done, The Woman has taken us through a litany of her personal frustrations, including her joblessness, Alcoholics Anonymous, mental institutions, Sally Jessy Rafael and Dr. Ruth, and harmonic convergence, among many. Any similarity of her stream of consciousness delivery with Winnie’s in Samuel Beckett’s “Happy Days” is purely intentional.

It’s now The Man’s turn, yes, the one in the grocery store. He seems much, more normal, until we get to know him. With a Charlie Brown sensibility, he decries the injustices of the world — and his entanglements with them. He rants and raves about women who bop him over the head in grocery stores, God, discrimination around sexuality, and much, much more. He may be more shrill than The Woman, but he’s just as desperate.

After the two monologues, the two come together in their dreams. It would be a shame to give away the delicious comedy that comes to life — it’s not unlike a surreal Marx Brothers film.

Giving this ridiculous play its nearly unstoppable manic comedy were two virtuoso actors, both Dorset veterans, who were simply irresistible. Mary Bacon was not only ridiculously funny as The Woman, she was able to deliver moments of real sympathy. Dan Butler as The Man could become monochromatic but too had real moments of pathos, and his Charlie Brown demeanor discussing his grievances was hilarious. The two together were priceless.

Direction by Jade King Carroll, Dorset’s resident artist for the season, highlighted the comedy with minimal effects and staging, focusing on the actors and zany interaction. The action was on a simple platform with a curtained backdrop that allowed for entrances and exits, and hid scenery yet-to come.

As for COVID precautions, tickets weren’t touched, only scanned. Seating was in folding lawn chairs arranged in “pods” on a lawn that banked towards the stage. Visibility was fine.

The effective performance space was designed by Joey Moro. Simple staging — with a couple surprises — was designed by You-Shin Cen, well lit by Yuki Nakase Link, with perfect costumes by Rodrigo Muñoz.

What made Dorset Theatre Festival’s “Laughing Wild” so delightfully funny is that we found ourselves looking in a mirror.

jim.lowe / jim.lowe

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