Photos courtesy of Segue Productions
Laughing Wild play - supermarket scene
“Oh, and I feel great hostility toward teenagers from New Jersey who seem happy. I mentioned that earlier, didn’t I?”
So says the woman in Christopher Durang’s 1987 play Laughing Wild. For only a dozen people filling the 30 or so seats in the theater, they sure laughed loudly during opening night at Phoenix Theatre, located at the Brave New Workshop’s old site. Put on by Segue Productions, Laughing Wild is part comedy, part tragedy, and part acknowledgment at how ridiculously difficult it can be to feel alive.
The play starts with a 30-minute monologue by Emily Rose Duea’s unnamed character talking about how difficult it is to deal with people. Read: Her unnamed character punched a man at the supermarket for not moving out of her way when she wanted to grab a can of tuna.
Duea’s character is capricious chaos, and it’s reflected in her speaking. Her tempo rushes as the words tumble out, she halts when a particularly peculiar thought hits, and her moments of soft vulnerability bump against her brazen cackle—excuse me, her wild laughter “amid severest woe.” Yet we’re drawn to the storm. Our heartstrings thrum at her earnestness and perseverance in a world of suicidal thoughts, rude taxi cab drivers, HIV, hubris, and street musicians who ask if you need help getting to the ladies shelter when you’re trying to flirt.
Following Duea’s one-two punch of dark humor and longing, Nick Menzhuber’s character tries to present the benefits of positivity, but his inner doubts seep onto his notecard-written bullet points. As each tentative hope spirals down, and as he shows slips in his composure, there’s a sense of validation from the audience. Like, yes, the world is crazy; I’m glad you can see it, too. Don’t worry about getting too anxious, though: He intersperses calming words of affirmation throughout, complete with meditative gong sound.
Laughing Wild’s characters give us words upon laughter upon heartbreak, but amid their personal reflections, there hide controversial topics. Topics such as unfit politicians, climate change, abortion, and gay rights mingle throughout the two monologues and the last act with both characters on stage. This is only Segue Production’s second show—the first was Steel Kiss, a play about a homophobic hate crime produced for the 2012 Fringe Festival—but it has already established a clear mission. The company exists to put on shows as a commentary on current events.
Still, it’s not the didactic naming of these issues that resonated with the audience. It was the ability of Duea and Menzhuber to get across the real point of the play—the uncovered, desperate need for empathy.
Laughing Wild. Through Feb. 5. Phoenix Theater, 2605 Hennepin Ave., Mpls., 612-377-2285, phoenixtheatermpls.org.