It’s hard to laugh at all the right places in Christopher Durang’s dark comedy “Why Torture Is Wrong, and the People Who Love Them.”
When the smartly written satire was penned, Durang was aiming squarely at trigger-happy Bush apologists and their ilk, while swiping freely at the magic of live theater. This intertwining of buffoonery, hate-mongering and the neuroses of the all-too fragile male ego makes for riotous, scathing commentary. And, under the impeccable direction of Adam Zahler, Titanic Theatre Company mines every word of this madness for comic gold.
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But people aren’t laughing as heartily as the production warrants. The audience's reaction feels unintentionally restrained, perhaps, in part, due to the ever-present specter of an attractive young man currently on trial for his suspected acts of terrorism. Or, perhaps, it's a discomfort with the role of the gun-waving, right-winger who claims to be part of a “shadow government.”
If we couldn’t put names and faces — all too present — to these caricatures, people would likely be laughing harder, identifying less on an emotional level and enjoying the sweeping condemnations. But Alexander J. Morgan is so convincing as the foreign and thus "dangerous" Zamir that it’s hard not to think of Tsarnaev. Jeff Gill is equally unnerving and impressive as his right-wing, gun-toting, vigilante nemesis Leonard.
On the flip side, Caroline Rose Markham is delightful as Felicity, the usually sensible girl who wakes up married to Zamir after a bender (or a roofie). Jonathan Barron adds great light and levity with his engaging portrayal of chill man of the cloth-cum-porn creator Reverend Mike.
Throughout the story, Felicity's mother Luella (well-rendered by Shelley Brown) survives all the insanity through daydreams and reveries of the theater. Durang attempts to wrap the whole twisted story up with a bow, aiming for an ironic happily-ever-after. However, the comedy is so dark, and the wit so sharp, that it feels a bit more confused than ironic.
There’s no room for happy endings in “Torture," which, despite any shortcomings, is finely wrought social commentary that will leave audiences affected, either way.