Betty the Unbored

Christopher Durang’s “Betty’s Summer Vacation” opened at the Bay Street Theatre last weekend. Jerry Lamonica

    “Betty’s Summer Vacation,” which won an Obie in 1999 for its acclaimed playwright, Christopher Durang, is the Bay Street Theatre’s second seasonal production. The play, a comedy about a summer share gone horribly wrong, runs through July 31.
    As with most of Mr. Durang’s titillating works, the play is part uproarious comedy, part horror. If you are easily offended, this is not the show for you. But whether the audience is laughing or gasping, the gods are pleased. Because in the world of Mr. Durang’s creation, the worst offense is ennui.
    It opens with Betty (Heidi Schreck) arriving at her summer share with the gabby Trudy (Celia Keenan-Bolger) in tow. Others arrive shortly thereafter: dumb, horny Buck (John Behlmann), the Dexter Morgan-like Keith (Bobby Steggert), replete with hatbox and shovel, and Veanne Cox in a tour-de-force performance as the drunk and dysfunctional Mrs. Seizmagraff.
    The play has the feeling of a sitcom (albeit an R-rated one) filled with archetypal comic characters, and, in many ways, it is a sitcom. Not to give away too much, but the show starts off light and fluffy, becomes a dark comedy, and ends as a commentary on the rapacious bloodlust of the American public.
    Mr. Durang wrote this absurdist play in the wake of a public that was fanatical for round-the-clock news of John and Lorena Bobbitt and Tonya Harding, of TV cameras obsessed with following a white Bronco, the trial of a pop star accused of molesting little boys, and a man with a gun who went on a killing spree and ended the life of a famous designer. This was the cusp of reality TV and the public’s unrelenting need to be entertained, and Mr. Durang eerily forecasts the television shows of today that stick a bunch of people together on an island or in a summer share purely for the public’s amusement.
    However, even in the midst of the revulsion the audience feels as the play becomes even more voyeuristic, there are still plenty of laughs.
    Trip Cullman ably directs the hectic comedy on Walt Spangler’s set, evocative of both a generic summer cottage and a sitcom set. The lighting by Ben Stanton stays bright and focused, like the action onstage. The performances are good, especially those of the aforementioned Ms. Cox and Ms. Keenan-Bolger.
    All in all, Bay Street’s production is a good choice for this season. It is light and funny, with dark overtones, and as timely, or unfortunately more so, as it was when it was first produced.
    Tickets to “Betty’s Summer Vacation” are available at the theater’s box office in Sag Harbor.


<