Janet Prince, Stuart Williams, Dan Frost, Melanie MacHugh
Alicia Dhyana House
Christopher Durang might be an acclaimed playwright in his native US, but here he is less well-known – so much so, in fact, that when I saw the flier for Durang Durang I assumed it was a typo or an 80s tribute band.
The Mind the Gap Theatre Company is seeking to address this lack of recognition with this staging of a trilogy of his short pieces, coming to Londons Jermyn Street Theatre following a successful stint at last year’s Edinburgh Festival.
Based on this show, however, his anonymity is well deserved. A revue built around three short pieces, this feels like three moderately funny five-minute sketches stretched into a desperately unfunny whole that, even at a brisk running time of an hour, manages to outstay its welcome.
The opening sketch, Mrs Sorkin, where an elderly lady holds court on the subject of theatre is amusing enough, albeit extremely American in focus (jokes about Angels in America might be easily understood by a US audience but sit less easily even with a relatively informed London crowd). For Whom The Southern Belle Tolls, a pastiche of Tennessee Williams The Glass Menagerie, starts off well but goes on too long, with jokes rung dry by the end (really, there is a limit to how long cocktail stirrers are entertaining) , while Nina in the Morning is a one joke piece that wears thin very quickly. Frankly, there just isn’t enough funny to go round.
The multi-tasking cast do their best with whats on offer: with great comic timing and bundles of charm, Janet Prince steals the show as dotty gentlewoman, southern matriarch and predatory ageing vamp, but the rest of the actors play plenty of roles but have little to do. Dan Frost gets by on good looks and slapstick, only occasional moments of quiet emotion hinting at the promising actor underneath the farce, while Stuart Williams seems to be bizarrely, if sporadically entertainingly, channelling Will Ferrell in his over the top mannerisms.
The Jermyn Street Theatre is tiny a hidden gem of secret London tucked away among the shirt shops that, despite having possibly the least comfortable seats in the West End, is well worth a visit (though if youre over 5 5 make sure you get a seat in the front row), so there is a pleasing intimacy to the piece. Designer Ji-Youn Chang deserves praise for making the compact space work in her favour, with a set that is basic but adaptable and doesnt get in the way of the action (extra plaudits also for Paul Careys simple but striking ‘Southern Belle’ costume design). Up and coming New York director Alicia Dhyana House (with ‘additional comic direction’ by UK TV and stand-up regular Stephen Frost) injects the proceedings with plenty of energy, but unfortunately can’t hide the paucity of the source material.
Ultimately, despite the best efforts of all involved, this feels like a tired night out – while the show raises the occasional laugh, for the most part it just feels dated and stale. In the case for Durang being a much neglected playwright, this is evidence for the prosecution, not the defence.