Christopher Durang’s comedy “Betty’s Summer Vacation” has the high goal of exposing the tabloid vulgarization of the American public, but he shoots low and misses the mark. His setup is over the top and his conclusions obvious. Director L. Zane manages to finesse most of the laughs and acerbic social commentary from the piece, but the play’s inherent flaws keep the production at the level of mild amusement rather than the wickedly satiric jeremiad it aspires to be.
When Betty (Lydia Ellison) arrives at the beach house she’ll be sharing for her vacation, she’s looking forward to a relaxing break; alas, that’s not what she gets. Her housemates include Trudy (Tasha Ames), a chatterbox with the unpleasant habit of lopping off male genitalia, and the wide-eyed Keith (David Weidoff), who goes Trudy one better by decapitating people. Trudy’s mother, Mrs. Seizmagraff (Diana Castle), is exuberant and up for anything, including sex with the ever-horny Buck (Anthony Ames) and inviting in the deviant Mr. Vanislaw (Keith Sellon-Wright).
Betty’s equanimity is mainly disturbed, however, by the presence of Voices (John Srednicki, Azizah Hayes, Alex Quijano) coming from the ceiling — a constant audience with an insatiable desire for sex, mayhem and murder.
Durang put so little into the character of Betty — essentially she represents decency — that even as the lead she has the least interesting role in the play. Ellison is sympathetic in a part that is almost entirely reactive
Tasha Ames is initially hilarious as the babbling Trudy, letting loose a torrent of stream-of-consciousness questions like a hyperactive child just off Ritalin, and is finally chilling as her inner demons come out to play.
Weidoff does more with an angry stare or a disturbed look than most actors can do with their whole bodies, and he is terrifically macabre as Keith.
Anthony Ames’ Buck is so cheerfully upfront about his horndog status that he’s almost wholesome, but Mr. Vanislaw as written is a one-note joke that Sellon-Wright can’t improve upon. As the judgmental, infantile Voices, Srednicki, Hayes and Quijano are impressively in sync, delivering lines in whining or commanding unison.
Castle’s perf as Mrs. Seizmagraff is problematic. Although Durang’s characters are often wacky, the humor derives from the fact that these people don’t realize how odd they are. Castle has chosen — or has perhaps been directed by Zane — to play the part in an almost burlesque style. She’s good at this, but the message of the character, and to some degree the message of the play — that sometimes being open to everything merely leads to nihilistic hedonism — is lost.
Mia Torres’ neat pastel set provides an ironic contrast to the untidy nastiness of the material.