‘Durang-ed’: Rust Belt tackles playwright’s works


What: Rust Belt Theater’s production of “Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You” and “Naomi and the Living Room”

Where: The Calvin Center for the Arts, 755 Mahoning Ave., Youngstown

When: 8 p.m. Friday, Saturday and July 15-16

Tickets: Call 330-507-2358

Place:Calvin Center Idea Incubator

755 Mahoning Ave., Youngstown

By Milan Paurich


Summer may traditionally be a slow period for community theaters with most area houses shut down for the season. But Rust Belt Theater founder Robert Dennick Joki apparently didn’t get that memo.

After a successful production of Neil LaBute’s “reasons to be pretty” last month, Rust Belt is launching its “Durang-ed Summer” series this weekend, encompassing five plays by cultish American playwright Christopher Durang (“Betty’s Summer Vacation,” “The Marriage of Bette and Boo”).

In a recent interview, Joki discussed why he’s such a devoted Durang fan, and also previewed some exciting developments coming to the Rust Belt stage in 2012.

Q. Why did you decide to make this a “Durang-ed Summer”? It’s certainly a 180-degree turn from summer 2010 when Rust Belt staged a Greek (tragedy) trilogy.

A. We had a great time with the Greek tragedies last year, but as the theater company knows, it’s important to branch out and try new things. In the past year, I’ve directed some pretty heavy stuff — “Antigone,” “Medea,” “Electra,” “Closer,” Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me” — and I really felt the need to work on something funny. My hope is that next year we’ll have a theme that goes in a completely different direction.

Q. What is it about Durang’s comic sensibility that appeals to you so much?

A. While Durang is not technically an absurdist playwright, his work is definitely influenced by absurdism. His comedies are dark, dysfunctional and hilarious, but they also bring up important existential and sociological questions. They’re the kind of plays that have you laughing one minute and questioning your very existence the next. I spent my high school years reading Durang’s plays. He had a huge influence on my own writing. Fans of “How the Drag Queen Stole Christmas” will definitely enjoy this series.

Q. Tell us a little about the two one-act plays that comprise the first program?

A. “Naomi in the Living Room” is one of Durang’s lesser-known plays. It’s about a woman who, after experiencing a devastating family tragedy, has completely lost her mind. The play centers around her son, his wife and a visit home that no one will ever forget. “Sister Mary Ignatius Explains it All For You” lampoons Catholic dogma with the story of Sister Mary, a quirky nun who has been teaching students her own unique interpretation of God’s word for decades. She’s confronted by a group of her former students in the play, and the situation goes completely out of control.

Q. Who will be appearing in the show(s)?

A. Molly Galano is Sister Mary, and Brooke Slanina, Diane Symonds, Rick Morrow, David Romeo, Hunter Thomas and Marisa Zamary round out the “Ignatius” cast. In her first lead role ever, Nicole Zayas will be playing Naomi. Morrow and Zamary are also featured in “Living Room.”

Q. What’s ahead in the “Durang-ed” series later this summer?

A. We’ll be performing Durang’s “Titanic” and “For Whom the Southern Belle Tolls” on July 29th and 30th and Aug. 5th and 6th. Then we’ll wrap up the season with “Miss Witherspoon” on Aug. 26th and 27th and Sept. 2nd and 3rd.

Q. Any changes in store for Rust Belt in the coming year?

A. I’m really hoping that our next season will feature more locally written and original or adapted work. In the months ahead, we plan on doing an open call for locally written scripts. I want to offer a venue to promising local playwrights who otherwise wouldn’t have a platform for their work.

Q. Are you planning to direct anything at your former home (the Oakland Center for the Arts) next season?

A. I’m currently on the schedule for the Oakland’s annual production of “How the Drag Queen Stole Christmas,” as well as “Evil Dead: The Musical” next spring.

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