Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Right in "Why Torture is Wrong..."

The Stella Adler Theatre is tucked away on the second floor in a small building in the midst of Hollywood's hustle-and-bustle.  I had taken the Metro Red Line there to meet my friend Melissa for "Why Torture is Wrong and the People Who Love Them".  The theatre is practically next door to Hollywood and Highland station, but I still had to walk by the lights and tall white columns of the Hollywood/Highland complex, past the El Capitan's blinking marquee, and the staple street performers and tourists roaming out on a Friday night.  So finding myself so immediately in a small theatre space was a little jarring - not in a bad way at all, but in that pleasant way where your headspace is slightly off and you appreciate the best of both worlds because you've somehow just experienced the good of both places at once.  "Why Torture is Wrong and the People Who Love Them" is kind of like that...messing with your headspace - in a good way - and making you laugh the entire time - even when you wonder if you're supposed to.... 

The audience follows the confusion of waking up in bed with an absolute stranger.  Felicity (portrayed by Rhea Seehorn) hilariously does what most might do - try to escape.  Remember this moment, because things will only get absurd from here. Try as she might to escape, the bad keeps on and the audience can't help but laugh on. 

Zamir (Sunil Malhotra), who keeps on insisting that he's Irish, reveals that he's had a history of crime, appears fairly violent toward women, and doesn't really like the idea of a job.  Felicity also suspects he might be a terrorist.  But worse than waking up next to someone you don't remember, Felicity finds she is apparently married to this man and he doesn't believe in divorce.

Felicity then tries to escape to her parents - Luella (Christine Estabrook) and Leonard (Mike Genovese) - but she doesn't seem to escape anywhere but to a place that might just be more quietly dysfunctional.  Luella can't help but talk of plays to escape and Leonard has his "butterfly" collection that occupies him for hours.  Leonard is an extreme conservative - anti-abortion, pro-Second Amendment, anti-terrorism - and latches on too quickly (and fondly) to the idea that Zamir might be a terrorist.

Christopher Durang's play holds nothing back in political references and jokes at the conservative extreme, nor does he hold back in the amusing portrayal of the lax liberal Reverend Mike (Nicholas Brendon) who makes his living in less-than-holy ways.  He successfully adds in the Leonard-fan/follower Hildegarde (Catherine Hicks) and the "voice" Felicity hears (Alec Mapa) to bring the audience to an absurdist reality of misunderstanding and prejudices seen through a comic lens.  Even Hooters doesn't look the same in this play.

The cast as a whole is a terrific ensemble and each actor brings their role to the audience well.   Seehorn as Felicity keeps the play together as it shifts in and out of one absurd situation into another and Malhotra, as Zamir, gives a character you want to hate, then you're not sure if you should, then you really root for him when the play is at its most intense.  Genovese as Leonard is so seriously devoted in his extremism that you can't help but laugh, particularly alongside Estabrook's delivery of Luella's love for plays, rambling crazy facts/assessments about her husband, and flights-of-fancy.  Meanwhile, Hicks as Hildegarde, Mapa as the Voice, and Brendon as Reverend Mike shine in their time on stage - from Hicks' comedic portrayal of loving devotion to Leonard to Mapa's random appearances as a narrator to Brendon's hilarious psychedelic Reverend Mike with his philosophy and one-liners.

The play successfully executes "Why Torture..." is right. 

WHY TORTURE IS WRONG, AND THE PEOPLE WHO LOVE THEM by Christopher Durang runs until March 14th.  For more details, visit the listing on

-Charity Tran

Photo: Left to Right: Rhea Seehorn, Nicholas Brendon, Sunil Malhotra.  Photo by Rick Baumgartner.

1 comment:

ZFrancis said...

Its fantastic to see some good stage work done right in the thick of things. Great post.