Christopher Durang


Full Length Plays

Laughing Wild

 

Laughing Wild was presented by Playwrights Horizons, Andre Bishop, Artistic Director, and Paul Daniels, Managing Director, on October 23, 1987.  It was directed by Ron Lagomarsino; set was designed by Thomas Lynch; costumes were designed by William Ivey Long; lighting design was by Arden Fingerhut; sound design was by Stan Metelits; press representative was Bob Ullman; the production manager was Carl Mulert; and the production stage manager was M.A. Howard, stage manager was James Fitzsimmons.  The cast was: 

Woman  ...............................  E. Katherine Kerr
Man  ...............................  Christopher Durang

 


Laughing Wild  is a provocative and funny study about the perils and stresses of modern life in urban America.  Unique in form, the play consists of two monologues (one for each performer) plus an hilarious playlet which brings the two together, where they turn out to be having overlapping dreams.

            Some reviews:

This strange, hilarious three-part play is two monologues and a meeting of two dreamers. …the dazzling first speech [is] played with breathtaking force by E. Katherine Kerr.   The second speech is …filled with brilliant observations.  … [In Part III] we have entered the woman’s dream life, and the man’s too.  They intersect and mix in crazy patterns.  You should see this mad, mad, and quite extraordinary play.  It takes the author of… “Sister Mary Ignatius” to new heights of invention.  It’s his best play so far.  It’s divine madness.  
     – Jacques le Sourd, Gannett Westchester Newspapers

Christopher Durang’s most deeply felt plays take place at the point where laughter and weeping intersect.  The two-character “Laughing Wild” [is] simultaneously hilarious and saddening.  … [E. Katherine] Kerr is quite marvelous…Like Beckett, Durang suggests the impossibility of explaining or assuaging life’s absurdity.
         – Allan Wallach, Newsday

Mr. Durang is one of the funniest men in the world, able to make the audience laugh time and time again, taking us by surprise with his one-of-a-kind jokes and his relentless bitter satire.  
    
Edith Oliver, The New Yorker

…Durang touches hauntingly and hilariously on the agonies of modern existence, dementia, supermarkets, the ozone layer, and God’s alleged interest in the Tony Awards.
     – Linda Winer, Newsday

Durang is, without doubt, the most talented satirist of his generation.  He is also an excellent performer, milking his own boyish personality for all its worth.  Jean Smart is equally good, bringing her character to the heights of hysteria and back down again without a hitch.  …there are more than enough ideas and hilarity to make  "Laughing Wild"one of the best evenings of theatre Los Angeles has seen in a long while.   
     – Jeff Schwager, Village View (on the 1990 LA production) 

Grand satire… savagely, consistently on target…  
     – L.A. Times

 

The Story:


In the first section (Laughing Wild) a Woman addresses the audience.  “I want to talk to you about life,” she says.  “It’s just too difficult to be alive, isn’t it, and to try to function?”  She tells of her difficulty buying tuna fish in the supermarket, and her frustration that a man was standing in front of the tuna fish she wanted. Though she doesn’t ask him to move, she becomes enraged he doesn’t sense her need to reach the tuna fish, and she eventually hits the poor surprised man on the head.  She then tells of her troubles with a taxi driver, and about a stay in a mental institution, and about joining AA for companionship but then attempting suicide… she’s smart and makes interesting comments, but she’s also unbalanced and a bit scary as we get to know her better.  She has a startling loud laugh she likes to do at parties, but she also bursts into tears unexpectedly.  She curses the audience at the end of her speech, but then apologizes.  She tries to do her loud laugh to lighten the mood, but is too tired.  So she just says the word “laugh” instead.  “Laugh laugh laugh.  Laughter is a tonic.  So forget crying.  Cry, and you cry alone.  Laugh and you… cry alone later.”  As her last thought to the audience, she urges everybody to breath, which is the key to existence.  “Even if I stop,” she says, “you keep breathing out there.” 


The second monologue (Seeking Wild)  initially seems to have nothing to do with the Woman.  A 35-ish man comes out, friendly and anxious to give prepared thoughts of things he learned about positive thinking from a “personality course” he took.  The Man is smart, but clearly has trouble maintaining his positive attitude, his thoughts keep spiraling off into fears and irritations and angers at injustice.  He finds other people difficult, and tells us of a strange woman he met at the tuna fish aisle in the supermarket who attacked him for no discernible reason.  He tries to think of ways he might have acted differently so she wouldn’t have hit him, but he’s not too convinced these other ways would have worked.  He also tells us about his job at a magazine, and about his bisexuality, which he brings up kind of by accident.  “I am attracted to women and to men.  Though more frequently to other guys, which I find rather embarrassing to admit to publicly.  Why do I bring it up publicly then, you may well ask.  Well… I don’t know.  All my relatives are dead, and those that aren’t I’m willing not to talk to.”  This topic brings him to discuss Christians who think God was punishing gay people by creating AIDS, and about a notorious anti-gay Supreme Court decision (Hardwicke v. Bower).  And finally he tries to return to positive thinking again, talking about some New Age event he attended called the Harmonic Convergence, and ending with urging the audience to join him in “just breathing.”


The third piece (Dreaming Wild) has the Woman and Man interacting.  First they re-create their scene in the supermarket, trying out different scenarios of how else they might have behaved – though all the scenarios end badly.  

They then tell the audiences dreams they’ve been having, some of which seem to overlap and impinge on the other person’s dreams.  The Woman dreams she has killed Sally Jessy Raphael and taken over her talk show; and the Man dreams this as well, appearing as a guest on this talk show, dressed as the Infant of Prague, a religious figure the Woman has never heard of.  The Infant is a very difficult guest, and the Woman tries to kill him, but he is a religious icon and can’t be killed.

Then she dreams about the Harmonic Convergence, which she’s also never heard of  – “something’s wrong with my dreams, I keep dreaming about things I’ve never heard of.”  She now seems to be in the Man’s dream – he’s the one who spoke about and attended this New Age event – and in the dream he is suddenly entrusted with talking to the crowd, but the Woman misbehaves horribly and makes his life miserable.  Then the Convergence becomes the supermarket, they fight over tuna fish again, the sky darkens and the Woman, finding the tuna fish to be all poison anyway, weeps uncontrollably.  The Man makes a conscious choice to communicate to her, and they reach a kind of calm between them.  The dawn comes up at the Harmonic Convergence, and they both lead the crowd in the act of breathing.


This is a very unusual play by Durang, and it was received in a mixed fashion at its premiere.  Its popularity and stature has grown over the years, however.  The play is much funnier than the description above; it’s a difficult play to describe – it’s two part monologue, and then the third part is very unusual.  The theme of the two characters struggling to make sense out of life seems to continue to resonate.

In February 2003, Playwrights Horizons (where the play premiered) opened its new theatre building with staged readings of four of its past productions, three musicals (Falsettos, Floyd Collins, Violet) and one play (Laughing Wild).  Christopher Durang and E. Katherine Kerr, again directed by Ron Largomarsino, recreated their roles; and the play went extremely well with the audiences.

A few topics are worth mentioning.

THE TITLE: the phrase “Laughing Wild” occurs in Samuel Beckett’s play Happy Days, in which Winnie is buried up to her waist in sand but is otherwise trying to be positive.  And she’s always trying to remember her “classics” and says: “Oh, well, what does it matter, that is what I always say, so long as one… you know… what is that wonderful line…. Laughing wild…. something something laughing wild amid severest woe.”

Beckett and Winnie in turn are quoting Thomas Gray and his poem Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College, in which the something something is “and moody Madness laughing wild amidst severest woe.”

The Infant of Prague: Luckily the picture at right can show you what the Infant of Prague looks like.  This particular costume was designed by the wonderful designer William Ivey Long, and it was based on the various pictures and statues that exist of this religious icon. 

From Durang: When I was growing up Catholic, the Infant of Prague statue was in some Catholic Churches, and in some people’s houses, and on some people’s dashboards.  

It was never discussed much and was not very central to the faith, unlike, say, statues of Christ on the cross or of the Blessed Mother.

As a child I was told that the Infant of Prague was the Christ child, which it turns out is correct.  When I was researching the Infant for this play, I asked many Catholics what they thought the Infant of Prague was, and about 50% thought it was some other saint, they didn’t quite know who.

Reading about the creation of the image, I learned that the image of this richly bejeweled (and I’m afraid pampered looking) Infant is indeed a “representation” of the Christ Child.  Since Christ lived in a poor family, we’re told, He obviously would never have been dressed that way; so it’s an inner state of the Divine Christ Child that is being celebrated.  The clearest reference to the statue goes back to the 17th century when Princess Polyxena of Lobkowitz gave the statue to the “Discalced Carmelites” in Prague.  (Ignoring, I guess, any Carmelites who were only Calced.  Just kidding, I don’t the meaning of most of these words.)

In any case, in my Catholic childhood the Infant of Prague was kind of mysterious and in the “rich child, pampered look” kind of “out of date.”  

I thought it would be funny to interview this “entity” on a talk show (in a dream, after all).  And I wanted an “out of date” religious icon to spout the church’s out-of-date, but tenaciously held onto, beliefs about why birth control is supposedly wrong.

So that’s who the Infant of Prague is, and why he’s in the play.  

Re: Updates

Like several other Durang plays, Laughing Wild has references to people and events that were current when the play was written.   (In this play’s case, 1987).  In the Dramatists Play Services acting edition, there are author notes at the end where some references from that period have been changed.  

References to Ronald Reagan in the original script were mostly dropped.  References to the Meese Commission have been changed to something more generically understandable.   References to New York Mayor Ed Koch and “Westway” were dropped; they barely registered with audiences back then, let alone later.

So it is hoped if you do the play, you’ll get the DPS acting edition to look at those suggested cuts and changes.

However, there are many other references it isn’t possible to change.  The play intuitively feels right in its late ‘80s setting.  So it is Durang’s belief it is best to do the play as a piece set in its own time period of late 1987-88.

For more discussion of this issue, click on Essay on Updating.

Supreme Court – in the Man’s monologue he discusses a famous anti-gay rights case Hardwicke v. Bower, which has recently been overturned.  Click on essay on Supreme Court.

Click Here to read Essay on The Supreme Court

 

Note: the Playwrights Horizons 1987 production was taped and may be watched at the Lincoln Center Performing Arts Library with permission.

Cast size: 1 male, 1 female
Rights: Dramatists Play Service


photos by Gerry Goodstein

"And when I don't dance, I
laugh...Ahahahahaha!"
(Kerr and Durang)
The Woman  interviews 
the Infant of Prague. 
(Kerr and Durang)
Jean Smart and Durang
in the L.A. production, 
directed by Dennis Erdman

 

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