This review of Christopher Durang's Why Torture Is Wrong, And The People Who Love Them at Studio Theatre Long Island was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!
Why Torture Is Wrong, And The People Who Love Them
Written by Christopher Durang
Directed by David Dubin
Studio Theatre Long Island
141 South Wellwood Avenue
Lindenhurst, New York 11757
Why Torture Is Wrong, And The People Who Love Them had its world premiere at The Public Theater in New York City on April 6, 2009. The play goes out of its way to portray men as testosterone-driven, violent, abusive, sexually deviant, porn-loving animals and women as bubble-headed, unintelligent, blind, naive idealists without the self-respect to stand up for themselves and seek greener pastures. Felicity (Janine Innamorato-Haire) wakes up in her apartment to discover that after a wild night at Hooters, she married Zamir (George Ghossn), who claims his name is Irish. Zamir shows her the Marriage Certificate but she doesn't recall the ceremony conducted by Rev. Mike (Eric Clavell) nor getting mugged during which her credit cards were stolen. As any reasonable person would, she brings up the issue of annulment but Zamir, who speaks of having taken jobs that suggest he might be a very shady character, perhaps even a terrorist, threatens her with serious violence (e.g. "I'll shove my fist down your throat"). Under pressure, Felicity brings Zamir from Manhattan to Maplewood, New Jersey to meet her parents, Leonard (Angelo DiBiase) and Luella (Lisa Frantzen Greene). While there, Zamir says he cut the telephone lines just in case Felicity decided to try to call someone about getting an annulment and reports that he wired the house with explosives, which he could set off with his cell phone. Leonard pulls a gun on Zamir and Luella defuses the situation by making French Toast, which Leonard calls Freedom Toast because of France's unwillingness to join the Coalition of the Willing in the Iraq War. (As a side note, there is no "second floor" in the picture of Felicity's parents home projected onto the wall at the back of the stage, which is referenced repeatedly throughout the show.)
As the play unfolds, we find out that Zamir drugged Felicity at Hooters and that Rev. Mike, a minister who also makes porn ("A Porn-Again Christian"), married them while she was drifting in and out of consciousness. We also learn that Zamir is a Pakistani who is out on parole for credit card fraud and it is likely he who stole Felicity's credit cards during the alleged mugging. He also drugged her again to have non-consensual sex and not only expects her to earn all the money but wants her father to buy them a house. She asks her father to help her out of this impossible situation and he agrees because what father wouldn't stand up and help his daughter when she is in trouble. But Leonard, who collects butterflies (i.e. guns) and is part of the American Shadow Government suspects Zamir may be a terrorist, in light of the explicit statements he has made. He calls upon Hildegarde (Dolores De Poto), also known as Scooby-Doo, to surveil Zamir to ascertain whether or not he is a terrorist. She overhears Rev. Mike and Zamir speaking about the upcoming "Big Bang" and the many "explosions" that will take place in a number of cities. Of course, they were talking about Rev. Mike's upcoming porn movie but Hildegarde thought she confirmed a terrorist attack that was going to take place in the next few days. Leonard tortures Zamir to discover where the attacks will take place. No time for rendition because time is of the essence.
Luella lives in la-la-land. She does nothing but speak of the theater and can't seem to answer a direct question. Having been subjected to Sadomasochistic Sex by her husband (what she calls "unmentionable"), she claims to go to the theater to try to discover "what normal is." Given her husband's violent nature (at one point, he threatens, for no reason, to kill the audience using his automatic weapons), his involvement with the Shadow Government, and his kinky sexual predilections, she would prefer to stay detached from reality. As the Announcer (Jeff Greene) says, "She free-associates and free associates until she's so far off, she doesn't have to think about anything." Hildegarde has a secret crush on Leonard (she likes violent, autocratic, strong men), second-guesses her involvement in the torture of Zamir (during which he loses three fingers and an ear), and in one of the funniest running bits of the show, continues to drop her panties. Felicity, after confirming Zamir date-raped her twice (in defense, Zamir said, "I'm used to arranged marriages.), stole her credit cards, repeatedly threatened her with violence, and is a criminal out on parole is still concerned for Zamir's well-being at the hands of her father. Furthermore, she thinks her dad's defects can be cured by teaching him to be more empathetic and that Zamir can be changed by simply focusing on different aspects of his own personality. Felicity simultaneously believes that "our present creates our future" and that, "I believe people can change - they just don't." In the end, Felicity is willing to give the date-raping thief a second chance perhaps under the mistaken belief that bad men can be changed with the love of a good woman.
The entire cast is top-notch and a joy to watch. Particularly impressive was Janine Innamorato-Haire who, as Felicity, really carried the show and drew the attention of the audience. Dolores DePoto was absolutely hilarious as Hildegarde. She brought comic relief just when it was needed most. Eric Clavell turned Reverend Mike into a believable and likable character - not an easy task. Lisa Frantzen Greene, who as Luella, changed her dress color to suit her mood, was a very convincing blithering idiot. Any defects in the Zamir and Leonard characters are not the fault of the actors who played those parts so much as the fault of Christopher Durang, the playwright. Durang is supposed to be suggesting we wrongly suspected Zamir to be a terrorist due to our hysteria and unrealistic fears when he had Zamir make explicit terroristic threats that would lead any reasonable person to assume he was. As for Leonard and his participation in a fictitious Shadow Government aided by outrageous cartoon characters, Durang crosses the line when portraying the patriotic American as having the secret urge to kill all the audience members.
Christopher Durang suggests if we don't jump to conclusions and if everyone focuses on their better natures, we can all get along in peace. Rapers and thieves can become men worthy of dating. Those willing to torture terrorists can overcome this bad instinct by learning to be more empathetic. Deeply held conservative attitudes regarding the role of women in marriage and society can be altered if only properly and gingerly pointed out to the person who has reinforced those beliefs over a lifetime of indoctrination. The most naive person associated with this play is Christopher Durang, the playwright who seems to live in an alternate reality of his own creation. As I left the play, I felt reassured by the thought that Christopher Durang is not in a position to be responsible for keeping our country safe from attacks by ISIS and other terrorists. He should continue to focus his attention on what he does best - writing plays.
Why Torture Is Wrong, And The People Who Love Them plays at Studio Theatre Long Island through October 15, 2017. Tickets are $25.00 and can be purchased by calling 631-226-8400 or by visiting www.StudioTheatreLI.com