Christopher Durang


Longer One Act Plays
(between 30 and 60 minutes)

 

Titanic
 (1 hour approximately)

PRODUCTION HISTORY:

Titanic was first presented at the Experimental Theatre at the Yale School of Drama in New Haven in May 1974, directed by Peter Mark Schifter.  The cast was as follows:

 

Victoria Tammurai ........................................ Kate McGregor-Stewart
Richard Tammura ........................................ Kenneth Ryan
Teddy Tamurrai, their son ........................................ Joel Polis
Lidia ........................................ Christine Estabrook
The Captain ........................................ Robert Nersesian
Higgins, the Sailor ........................................ Richard Bey

Titanic had its New York City premiere when it was presented by the Direct Theatre, 455 West 43rd Street, in February, 1976.  The production was directed by Peter Mark Schifter, setting and costumes by Ernie Smith, lighting by Richard Winkler, produced by Allen R. Belknap.  For much of the rehearsal, the role of Richard was played by David Dukes, who had to leave the show when he had to take over for the ailing John Wood in Tom Stoppard’s Travesties on Broadway.  The cast was as follows:

 

Victoria Tammurai ........................................ Kate McGregor-Stewart
Richard Tammura ........................................ Stefan Hartman
Teddy Tamurrai, their son ........................................ Richard Peterson
Lidia ........................................ Sigourney Weaver
The Captain ........................................ Jeff Brooks
Higgins, the Sailor ........................................ Ralph Redpath

This production was subsequently moved off-Broadway to the Van Dam Theatre in May 1976, presented by John Rothman.  This version was presented with a curtain raiser, Das Lusitania Songspiel, co-authored by and featuring Sigourney Weaver and Christopher Durang.  This was the first version of their mock Brecht-Weill cabaret; a subsequent version was done by itself in 1980-81.

 

Left:
Kate McGregor-Stewart, Richard Peterson, Ralph Redpath, Sigourney Weaver, and Stefan Hartman, stare longingly into the distance as the Titanic leaves the dock.

This was a clever directorial invention of Peter Mark Schifter, in which the characters came onto the ship to stirring music which then turns yearning.  It was a short pantomime of embarking onto the ship, and preceded Scene 1.  I loved the wistful, lost looks on the characters’ faces here.

 

Right:
Richard Peterson as Teddy looks alarmed as Sigourney Weaver as the vivacious Captain’s daughter cheerfully blurts out her history of bizarre sexual behavior.

 

Some reviews included:

From the evidence presented, Mr. Durang is a spirited, original fellow…who brings back to the theatre a welcome impudence and irreverence. Titanic [is] a merry and (innocently) obscene farce… in a plot of blinding complexity… Miss Weaver – the very embodiment of Mistaken Identity – appeared to great advantage in multiple roles.
     
Edith Oliver, The New Yorker

Actually the Titanic aspect of the show is something of an excuse. Mr. Durang is not really concerned with heroism or cowardice, but with infinite sexual permutations. This is a wild drawing-room farce that happens to take place at sea. … The humor is untamed, a nonstop flow of outrageous jokes, puns and burlesque byplays… …Mr. Durang has a ferocious comic talent, and his company of actors, deployed by Peter Mark Schifter, is thoroughly Durangian. … The most bizarre creature is the would-be daughter… This oversexed nymphet is played in miniskirt by the lovely, long-limbed Sigourney Weaver, whose unabased good nature makes us laugh at the most indelicate situations. …As the shifty mother, Miss McGregor-Stewart gives a particularly droll and zany performance. …Mr. Durang stands everything on its head, utilizing what might be called the Poseidon approach to comedy.
      Mel Gussow, New York Times

Durang has a marvelous imagination and an hilarious, unconventional sense of humor. Durang seems to be paying homage to…the sexual farce of Joe Orton. …much kissing, fondling and running around in underwear on everyone’s part.
      William Harris, Soho News

 

THE STORY:  The play begins on the Titanic as Richard and Victoria Tammurai sit in the ship’s dining room and complain about not having been placed at the Captain’s table.  Their son, Teddy, looks 20, but they claim he is 12, and dress him in short pants.  Richard and Victoria have a terrible argument, in which Victoria reveals that Teddy is not Richard’s son. (In a mad moment, she gave in to a derelict she met on the beach once.)  Richard escalates the argument by claiming their daughter Annabella was not actually born to Victoria, but was given birth to by Victoria’s sister Harriet, with whom Richard was having an affair.  “You only thought you gave birth,” says Richard, “Harriet and I did it with mirrors.”  Pushed by further insults, Victoria tells Richard that there is no such person as Annabella, that she and Harriet, though sisters, have been having an affair.  And that Richard never even slept with Harriet, “we did it all with mirrors and slices of white bread, you made love to pieces of white bread, you stupid man.”  All these revelations cause them to decide to get a divorce as soon as possible, while poor Teddy whimpers.  Victoria leaves the dining room, saying with foreboding, “Somehow I wish we’d never come on the Titanic.”

From here the play, which does indeed have a plot of “numbing complexity,” gets stranger and stranger. Teddy is seduced by Lidia, the innocent yet perverse daughter of the Captain.  The Captain seduces Victoria, and Richard tries to pick up a sailor on deck, who turns him down when he sees an iceberg approaching.

Strangely, the ship doesn't sink. We hear alarming sounds of a ship striking an iceberg, but that turns out to be the result of a sound effects record, played on the speaker system by the Captain's unstable wife, who is missing.

For complicated reasons, Teddy ends up wearing the Sailor’s uniform, and Richard doesn’t recognize him in these clothes, and mistakes him for a male hustler.  Lidia turns out not to be the Captain’s daughter, but to be the bitter Harriet, and she resumes her affair with Victoria.  At one point, Richard marries Teddy and Victoria marries Harriet, in an early version of a gay wedding, which the Captain combines with a funeral for his wife.  Later Harriet turns out to be not Harriet, but the daughter Annabella, who does exist after all.  And Annabella is in a rage and gets Teddy to help her plan to kill their “very bad parents.”  And still the ship doesn’t sink, although everybody wants it to.

From Durang: This is a really difficult play to do. It’s funny, and very perverse, and definitely the most x-rated of my plays. I feel I’ve never seen a production that totally hit the tone in my head – I’ve seen the funny farce, but I’ve never seen the moments where weird and unexpected sadness presses itself through.  Maybe the play’s too silly for that to happen successfully.  Though the bracing anger Sigourney Weaver brought to the part of Annabella went a long way to sort of moving the play from frantic sex farce to a kind of updated Electra story, the angry daughter wanting to kill a parent.

But the play as written always gets a little exhausting to sit through… it’s like a funny, strange dream you’d like to be over sooner than it actually gets over.  However, when I cut 10 minutes from the script for the off-Broadway version, it didn’t really help, and the lost scene added a layer of craziness that the play missed.  So I reinstated it.  (It’s the scene where Lidia/Annabella drills holes in the ship, to try to make it sink.)

So I warn you: it’s very hard to do.  And I feel it should be done by college, but not by high school students.  I do still find it funny, though.

Cast: 4 male, 2 female, 6 total.
Rights: Dramatists Play Service


 

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