Monday, May 25, 2015


An assault on the "war on terror," Toby Zinman found this Christopher Durang farce the perfect demonstration of how short the shelf life of political humor is


By Toby Zinman
For the Inquirer

Christopher Durang, America’s self-appointed satirist, the theater’s oldest living teenager, wrote New City Stage’s current show, Why Torture is Wrong and the People Who Love Them two years ago. An assault on the “war on terror,” this is the perfect demonstration of how short the shelf life of political humor is. On his worst day, Stephen Colbert wouldn’t foist off stuff this stale on us.

The plot begins when Felicity (Ginger Dayle, the cast’s weak link) wakes up after a drunken night in bed with a man who claims to be her husband. Zamir (Sam Henderson) is a shady character, who may be a terrorist or a criminal or a drug addict on parole. She takes him home to meet her parents — slightly delirious, excessively chatty Luella (the excellent Marcia Saunders) and Leonard (Paul L Nolan), a right-wing-lunatic, Second-Amendment kind of guy who runs a black op in his attic.

Add to the mix the preacher who married Felicity and Zamir, one Reverend Mike (Russ Widdall), whose day job is making porn films; Hildegarde (Sonja Robson), and a weirdo who talks like a cartoon, played by Ed Swidey, both part of Daddy’s shadow government.

It is astonishing that so many good actors should have been trapped in this torture chamber of a show. The strongest moments are Nolan’s long monologue on butterflies and Saunders’ rant on Terri Schiavo. Once the nastiness of the onstage torture is ratcheted up, the play takes a turn for the creepy that is miles from funny.

Michael Brophy directs with a leaden hand — all the comic “bits” are labored, while the scene changes and lighting cues seem endless. And on opening night the late-starting production took over two hours, which is more than enough to wear out any joke — even if it were funny in the first place. Two things are death to farce: slow and I forget the other thing.

City Stage Company at the Adrienne Theatre, 2030 Sansom St.  Through Jan.7. Tickets $10-30. Information: 215-563-7500 or

About this blog

Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer where she reviews New York and London as well as Philadelphia. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of five books about modern and contemporary drama, and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). She was recently named by American Theatre magazine "one of the twelve most influential critics in America."

Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.

Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.

Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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