* Playwrights Horizons, New York City * Written by Christopher Durang * Directed by Nicholas Martin

With *Betty’s Summer Vacation,” the author of *Beyond Therapy* and *Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All for You* reasserts his status as the most savage farceur since Joe Orton. Seeking peace and quiet, Betty (Kellie Overbey) rents a room in a seaside cottage whose other occupants all turn out to be loony tunes.

Trudy (Julie Lund) never shuts up and tends to blame all her personal failings on the fact that her father abused her sexually. In this, she bonds with Keith (Nat DeWolf), a nervous gay guy who shows up with a shovel and a hatbox and doesn’t deny convincingly the jokes about him being a serial killer. Buck (Troy Sostillio) is a macho stud who has to have sex 20 times a day. And Mrs. Siezmagraff (Kristine Nielsen), the rental agent and Trudy’s mother, is quick to stir up trouble and even quicker to deny all responsibility, even when she drags in a raincoat-clad pervert from the beach and pretends not to notice him bestowing the same favors on Trudy that her father did.

The play, which just closed as part of Playwrights Horizons’ subscription series but may reopen commercially, is classic Christopher Durang. The audience roars with laughter at incest, rape, severed body parts, and other things that aren’t supposed to be funny. As if that’s not disconcerting enough, the summer house a built-in laugh-track -- a grotesque Greek chorus that pelts the inhabitants with inane shrieking and comments like “We want to know what Gwyneth Paltrow is doing *right now*! We want to see Brad Pitt naked!”

The playwright has clearly been following with horrified fascination the TV and newspaper coverage of the trials that have become the Greek tragedy of our age -- John Wayne and Lorena Bobbitt, the Menendez brothers, Jeffrey Dahmer, et al. *Betty’s Summer Vacation* is his deranged essay on how the tabloid-TV mentality has overtaken American society. His genuine sadness and anger come across in a brilliantly acted, expertly directed production that is, paradoxically, nonstop frothy (if sick) fun. You haven’t seen a comic ensemble this uproarious in years. But Nielsen steals with the show with her second act set-piece. Playing prosecutor, defendant, and surprise witness in a living-room version of Court TV by way of Jerry Springer, she’s a cross between Lucille Ball and Auntie Mame -- on speed.

The Advocate, April 27, 1999

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