Christopher Durang’s Why Torture is Wrong, and the People Who Love Them is highly asburd comic paranoia; a response to the use of torture during America’s latest wars and the rapidly escalating danger of racial profiling. Highly American, taut and fraught, it’s painted broad but quietly aims to be clever.
Felicity (Ainslie McGlynn) wakes up with a hangover and a panic underneath some guy (it’s Zamir, Terry Karabelas), and she can’t even find her clothes. What she does find out, though, is that she married Zamir in a drunken blur the night before, and every time she suggests they annul the under-the-influence nuptials, he basically threatens to kill her.
So, Felicity is trapped but not entirely convinced she can’t charm him into pleasantness, so she takes him to meet her parents. This is where things get weird: with Zamir seeming a little like a terrorist and a father (Peter Astridge) who is rabidly right-wing and works for the “shadow government” deciding to destroy him – along with his crack team of devoted, lovestruck Hildegarde (Romy Bartz) and Looney Tunes (Annie Schofield), an appropriately twisted mercernary. When they capture Zamir and start torturing him, things get gory and they get relentless.
Or, they sort of do. The problem is that an absurd comedy needs to be tightly, tightly directed, and there’s some looseness in the second act that takes the higher stakes and brighter colours and minimises the stakes. Absurdist plays needs to be tightly controlled or else they feel like a big show of structureless or light-hearted romping, and the lack of urgency in the second act, even as smart devices are employed to try to change the outcome of the torture session, makes this feel more farce than an indictment on war and terror culture, wrapped in comedy.It’s a small distinction, but an important one.
Director Melita Rowston does some solid work, particularly in the first scenes, and in any scene involving Felicity’s mother Luella (Alice Livingstone) – an excellent, comedic representation of a repressed and oppressed wife and mother – but Looney Tunes and rewinding the clock spin away from her control.
Why Torture is Wrong… is a commendably different work to most things we see around the traps. It’s terrifyingly different and genuinely funny, and for those reasons it’s worth a look-in. Also making it worth a visit is Livingstone’s Luella, especially when she starts explaining to us that she goes to the theatre to “learn how to be normal.”
This play and production won’t teach you how to be normal, but it will invite you to think. You may or may not love it, but it’ll stay with you for the evening once you leave the theatre.