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‘Laughing Wild,’ A New Play by Christopher Durang, Opens Off- Broadway

November 12, 1987

NEW YORK (AP) _ In the outrageous and desperate urban environment created by playwright Christopher Durang, it’s hard enough to survive, let alone buy a can of tuna without being assaulted by a crazy lady.

That mugging in the supermarket launches ″Laughing Wild,″ Durang’s hilarious examination of New York neuroses that opened Wednesday at off- Broadway’s Playwrights Horizons. It’s a comic roller-coaster of belly laughs, black humor, social satire and hip, smart-alecky celebrity pinpricks at everybody from Sally Jessy Raphael to Lorenzo Lamas. In short, there is nothing else quite like it in New York right now.

Much of the play, directed at a swift, sure pace by Ron Lagomarsino, is a series of dizzy monologues. The first is delivered by the unnamed crazy lady, played with an on-target sense of the maniacal by E. Katherine Kerr. The woman revels in tense big city confrontations. Besides her supermarket dustup, she battles a taxi cab driver and throws her weekly meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous into chaos by insulting other members.

Kerr tells her tales directly to the audience. She asks for their advice and for confirmation that they have experienced similar traumas in the Big Apple. Not surprisingly, the murmurs are encouraging.

Durang co-stars in the play’s other, nameless role. His first monologue begins like one of those syrupy self-improvement lectures in which the power of positive thinking and feeling good about yourself conquers all.

Gradually, it turns autobiographical. He tells of being the victim of a supermarket attack - that tuna fish motif keeps turning up - and later starts talking about his personal life. He reveals that he is a homosexual and then launches into a devastatingly funny attack on the people who see AIDS as a form of God’s punishment.

Act 2 turns topsy-turvy, as the man and the woman reveal more of their fears and dreams. They even invade each other’s fantasies. The woman turns up as a Sally Jessy Raphael substitute whose interview victims include a devotional statue, the Infant of Prague, played by Durang.

As an actor, Durang is an appealing boyish curmudgeon, a combination of Andy Hardy and Andy Rooney. As a writer, he is a virtuoso, dazzling in his ability to pile laugh on top of laugh as he guides the audience through his characters’ anxieties.

The title ″Laughing Wild’ turns up in Samuel Beckett’s ″Happy Days,″ in which a character talks about ″laughing wild amid severest woe.″ The Beckett character is trying to remember the complete line of the poem which was written by Thomas Gray. Durang’s characters also are laughing under dire circumstances. Only they have theatergoers roaring along with them.

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