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States of Emergency

KAITIE TODD
7:30 pm Thursdays-Sundays through June 21; see defunktheatre.com for complete schedule., Friday May 09 | $15-$25 sliding scale Fridays-Saturdays; "pay what you can" Thursdays and Sundays.
The Back Door Theater
4319 SE Hawthorne Blvd.
 
Whether it’s because they’ve horrified or enthralled, some plays have a way of lingering long after the actors take their bows. Often that’s welcome—it’s one of the things that makes theater so vital. Other times, though, these unforgettable scenes stick around too long for comfort. Director Jon Kretzu spans this spectrum with Fewer Emergencies and Betty’s Summer Vacation, a pair of plays now running in repertory at Defunkt Theatre under the name “States of Emergency.” Both works tackle modern-day violence, exploring how it can be shrouded in fake optimism or sensationalized by entertainment junkies hungry for the next headline. Told in three loosely connected acts, Martin Crimp’s Fewer Emergencies examines suffering, mental illness and domestic gloom among the affluent. The standout in the cast is Steve Vanderzee, who captures the calm menace and instability of a suburban father who becomes a school shooter. Still, the play also has some plot points cloaked in a cheerful sheen, which leaves audiences with an appealing, if unsettling, ambiguity. There is no subtlety, however, to Betty’s Summer Vacation. Christopher Durang has called his 1999 play a commentary on the “tabloidization” of U.S. culture and the media’s focus on violence and gossip, particularly the highly publicized celebrity trials of the late ’90s. The story includes rape, castration and a beheading. This is black comedy at its most pointed, which is effective in making an argument about sensationalism, but it overwhelms more than it enlightens: It’s just as likely to incite frozen terror among audience members as they hear a rape happening offstage as it is to prompt dark laughter, as when Betty finds a castrated penis on ice in the fridge. If Betty’s Summer Vacation is a swift blow to the belly—it’s all pain, no gain—Fewer Emergencies is like an emerging bruise that slowly expands and changes hues.

Where: The Back Door Theater
Address: 4319 SE Hawthorne Blvd.
Website: http://defunktheatre.com/home.html

 
 
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