Why Torture is Wrong … but the Play is Funny

Why Torture is Wrong … but the Play is Funny

Why Torture is Wrong, and the People Who Love Them opens with a woman waking up in a strange bed next to a strange man. Slowly she learns that, yes, she did sleep with him and, even worse, she married him the night before.

The sinking feeling you get watching the scene unfold is soon replaced with repulsion as Felicity’s new husband, Zamir, turns violent and unpredictable, threatening her not to leave him.

Uncomfortable feelings of all sorts continue throughout this play, the second in Forward Theater Company‘s inaugural season and its first time being produced in the Midwest.

But playwright Christopher Durang’s satire on post-September 11 life is also very funny.

Norman Moses is great as Leonard, Felicity’s tightly wound, secretive and ultra-conservative father who’s convinced Zamir is a terrorist. But my personal favorite is Sarah Day as Felicity’s mother, Luella: Wait for her rant about her husband’s Right Wing obsessions with stem cells, abortion and more.

Torture is also fun when it points out that it is a play, such as when characters state that they don’t want to be in this play anymore or Felicity backtracks to earlier scenes to try to bring about different outcomes. And The Voice who is sometimes a narrator, sometimes a voice in Felicity’s head and other times new characters throws order off nicely.

Durang lets Felicity be his Alice in Wonderland, a comparison he makes in his playwright’s notes in the program. We follow her through the comic elements, unsettling and disturbing situations, absurdity, ambiguity and a little political food for thought.

And all these components add up to an interesting mix that’s difficult to unravel. During intermission, I overheard audience members talking about how funny the play is but how they feel bad saying it’s funny—because it’s not only that. It’s also distressing and discomforting and disorienting.

Somehow, this combination—this pulling us in with comedy and repelling us with violence—works and makes for a wild ride for audiences.

And if this play is any indication of what’s in store at Forward, Madison theatergoers have much to look forward to in this new company.

Why Torture is Wrong, and the People Who Love Them runs through January 17 at Overture Center. For more information, visit forwardtheater.com.

Photo by Colm McCarthy and courtesy of Forward Theater Company.