“Torture this way!”

Last night I caught up with friends for a night out at the Public Theater on Lafayette Street to see Christopher Durang’s new play, Why Torture Is Wrong, and the People Who Love Them. The Public contains more than one theater, so we giggled to hear a staff member directing confused audience members to their correct destination: “‘Torture’ this way,” he kept repeating. Between that and the play’s title, I felt I was backstage at a Stephen Colbert rehearsal.

The play is hilarious, although you would not suspect it from a brief plot summary: The central character wakes up to find that overnight she married a complete stranger whose name is Zamir and who is prone to outbursts of mysogynist rage. Then, within minutes of introducing her new husband to her father, the men are threatening to kill each other, while her mother exists in a dazed reverie of what might have been had she pursued a career in the theater. Ben Brantley’s New York Times review celebrates the accelerating absurdity of the humour in the play, which tackles head-on the paranoia and violence of our time. Durang skewers the fears and frustrations of contemporary Western life, while also providing a tribute to the theatre’s ability to represent and console us.

I have to confess I found the last quarter of the play a bit flat – the young Felicity tears down the play’s “fourth wall” and demands that all the characters return to an earlier moment in the play so that all the terrible events that unfold can be prevented. Perhaps this was the best way to dramatise our need to “make nice” all the ghastly events that US foreign policy since 9/11 unleashed; unfortunately it felt more like a cop-out to me.

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