Laughing Wild

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Tuesday July 21, 2015

Lauren Elias and Robert Orzalli star in "Laughing Wild" continuing through Aug. 1 at Club Cafe
Lauren Elias and Robert Orzalli star in "Laughing Wild" continuing through Aug. 1 at Club Cafe  (Source:Hub Theatre Company of Boston)

Hub Theatre Company of Boston presents the 1987 Christopher Durang play "Laughing Wild," a half-satirical, half-metaphysical exercise that brings two characters -- one crazy, one struggling with despair -- into each other's spheres of consciousness, where they seemingly make an enduring subconscious connection.

The crazy one is the Woman, played by Lauren Elias. The Woman, like the man, delivers a half-hour monologue; hers takes the form of a demented stand-up routine in which she describes a flurry of confrontations that leave her feeling wronged, rattled, and robbed of dignity.

One of the confrontations she describes happens in the "tuna fish aisle" of a grocery store, where she clobbers a man for lingering in front of the shelves too long, thoughtlessly blocking her way.

That confrontation repeats later on, again and again, taking on variations each time. In a sense, it's the play's backbone -- the one specific bit of action we both witness and to which we can trace subsequent events (even if those events take place only in dreams). The distortions that re-cast and redefine the violent encounter tie into other recurring motifs, such as a gathering for the "Harmonic Convergence" (remember that?) or a surreal talk show where a stand-in for Sally Jessy Rafael (remember her?) interviews The Infant of Prague. (This is a statue of Jesus, dating from the 16th Century, which makes its home in a Prague church.)

If it all seems dreamlike, well, so it is; the logic is soft and runny, and if there is a concrete sequence of events it's been chopped and scrambled beyond recognition. Is this how a crazy person experiences reality? Or is reality beside the point?

Durang's play premiered in 1987, and certain of its reference points are dated to say the least. Others remain current -- when The Man (Robert Orzalli) holds forth in his own half-hour monologue, which is structured like a motivational speaker's presentation, his upbeat, scripted comments gradually give way to an injured tirade about the unequal treatment of gays.

But overall, the play retains a timeless quality because it seems to float outside of consensual reality. The final third -- a half hour in which both Man and Woman participate, at first separately and finally by interacting with one another, is an almost absurdist description of metaphysical and imaginary happenings that still seem to carry some sort of consequential weight.

What this all means, and why it's of interest to us 28 years later, is a matter for discussion, personal interpretation, or dismissal. This production doesn't really prompt any deeper reflection; the fact that it takes place at Club Cafe shows some shrewd decision-making, because it's a play you're going to enjoy in the moment (and a cocktail from the bar will only enhance that.

The challenges of the material aside, there's nothing overtly present in the direction, by Margaret Ann Brady, that would allow the play's disparate elements to gel. The running gag of the beat-down in the tuna fish aisle is illustrated nicely at one point with sheepfolds of tuna fish tins -- hundreds of them -- but the design element only reinforces a Warholian sense of repetition intended to side-step sense, rather than arrive at it from a different angle.

Elias does crazy well -- her performance is full of an energy of self-importance and grandiosity, and punctuated by a little gasp -- or maybe a laugh or snort -- that suggests her marbles are not only not all accounted for, but actively rolling around in all sorts of random ways. What she doesn't manage is the timing of a stand-up comedian; this discomfort is meant to pair with laughter, perhaps even wild laughter (as the title promises), and there are guffaws to be had, but there's no sense of unified, accelerating, increasing tension such that the laughter builds on itself.

Orzalli fares better, with his character's downbeat persona erupting time and again in contrast to his upbeat messaging. He doesn't have the same burden of pulling off a standup routine -- though his motivational speaking shtick does lend itself well to a building comedic tide.

The third section, in which Man and Woman narrate and act out their dreams, misses its mark -- not of comedy, but rather of irreality. The deeply strange occurrences the play asks us to believe in need the casual acceptance that impossible happenings get when one is actually dreaming, but again the events on stage don't gel so as to create an enveloping experience -- an aura of the odd, if you will. They merely come off as stagey, a little mannered and too deliberately strange. Real life's absurdities don't pop out for us the way the play would like (and if I read it correctly, that's the point: To make us see reality in a different light), and that means we're not laughing as wildly as we need to for the production to come fully to life.

Ben Lieberson does some effective work with lights, props, and set design; if the tuna fish aisle unfolds cleverly from one of two boxy wooden pillars, the stage (or maybe it's a cable access set) where The Man holds forth is all that, and more. It's almost like Theater In A Trunk (or two).


"Laughing Wild" continues at Club Cafe through August 1. For tickets and more information, please visit http://www.hubtheatreboston.org/next-show.html

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.