Theatre Review: “Betty’s Summer Vacation”

Christopher Durang’s 1999 comedy Betty’s Summer Vacation, now on stage at The Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor, is a slice of life to anyone who’s ever had a house share in the Hamptons.

The big, bright set designed by Walter Spangler could be the interior of any rental out here—well-kept, multiple bedrooms, dinky kitchen.

The cast of characters is also pretty typical of house-share situations—a talkative fussbudget, an oversexed frat boy, a serial killer, somebody’s mom and Betty (Heidi Schreck), a strait-laced, normal American woman.

Bay Street promises that this show has “an edge.” It does in a sense, but it’s pretty true to life on this shore. Within the first 15 minutes of the show the audience is privy to goings-on involving celibacy, alcoholism, incest, flavored condoms, getting rocks off, horniness, a boner, a car accident, “loving” sexual harassment, “dick pix,” a hard-on, a cocktease, putting out and the f-bomb was dropped. [expand]

Also, much like a real-life summer in the Hamptons, the widow is over-dressed and a game of charades goes on for an eternity. Art imitating life?

What sets this beach house apart is that it comes with a laugh track. The laughter raining down from the ceiling on cue becomes interactive and, ultimately, demanding. Act II makes it all clear-ish. The opening night crowd packed the house and ate this show up. It’s a very wild ride. Durang is best known for his 1982 Broadway hit Beyond Therapy. You’ll recognize the same sort of high-octane lunacy in this show.

Betty’s Summer Vacation answers the question, “What happens when you bring a flasher (Tom Riis Farrell) home for dinner?” The answer to this and many other fascinating questions are presented in style, thanks to Emily Rebholz, who designed the costumes. The flasher’s (Mr. Vanislaw’s) socks are consistently worn one up and one down, a perfect foundation for this disgusting derelict’s look.

We hear Mr. Vanislaw rape the talkative girl, Betty’s friend Trudy (Celia Keenan-Bolger), offstage. It’s the lowest low. It’s played for laughs. It hurts our sensibilities and that’s the point. This play continues to hold a mirror up to American society and it’s not pretty. I highly recommend that you see this production. Laugh it up, talk about it over drinks, let it help shut off the laugh track around you.

The role of Mrs. Siezmagraff is what we in theatre call a “gimme role.” If you can act it passably well, the audience will adore you. Veanne Cox wrings every possible laugh and gasp out of this part. The audience was agog at her one-woman performance of “Court T.V.” What really impressed me was how she pulled off this shouty, unlovable characterization without ever sounding shrill. And the frenetic energy this small woman put out is, truly, off the charts!

This production was perfectly cast, thanks to Cindy Tolan. Of course director Trip Cullman deserves a lot of credit for the fine acting on display. Cullman has worked this ensemble into a finely-tuned emotional rollercoaster. The Three Voices (Jacob Hoffman, Kate O’Phalen, Tim Intravia) speak as one—their synchronized speech and movements make them appear to share one brain.

The lighting design by Ben Stanton was very effective, as was the sound design by Bart Fasbender.

Betty’s Summer Vacation is over on July 31. Take everyone in your summer house to see it tonight!

 

Betty’s Summer Vacation by Christopher Durang at Bay Street Theatre, 1 Bay Street, Sag Harbor. 631-725-9500, www.baystreet.org. [/expand]

BACK TO Performing Arts