Beginning Friday at South Puget Sound Community College, theater is a cabaret.
The college drama department is mounting Christopher Durang’s evening of satirical and comical shorts “Durang/Durang” — and some of the acting will occur right at the tables in the college’s black box theater.
“We’re setting it up like a comedy club,” said SPSCC theater professor Don Welch, who is directing the show. “We’ll have three big round tables in the back and arena seating on one side. The actors will come right through and sit at smaller tables that say ‘Reserved.’
“They’re all in a comedy club, and some come as patrons, and it stops the show when we listen to their story,” he added. “Some of them come on stage to perform.”
Cabaret has certainly made a comeback, and sketch comedy is doing the same, Welch said.
“Our students weren’t familiar with it,” he said. “I’d talk about ‘The Carol Burnett Show,’ and they’d say, ‘Who is Carol Burnett?’
“It’s time we educate them. You have to know where you are coming from so you know where you are going.”
The plays poke fun at playwrights Tennessee Williams and Sam Shepard, at modern life and at gender and sex roles.
“One of the plays is called ‘For Whom the Southern Belle Tolls,’ and it’s absolutely hysterical,” Welch said. “The students have read ‘The Glass Menagerie,’ and now they are doing this short play and they’re understanding what sketch comedy is.”
Making light of great works is not light work, the professor said, and the student actors have all done background study and research to prepare for their roles.
“It’s like Carol Burnett coming down the grand staircase with the curtain rod and the curtains, and she says, ‘I couldn’t resist.’
“As an audience member, you don’t have to know ‘Gone With the Wind’ to find that funny, but as an actor, you need to investigate what you are doing. You have to bring that understanding to your character.
“Acting is believing, and the audience will only believe as far as you believe. If it’s funny, you as an actor take it very seriously when you say some of these ridiculous things. The more real you are, the funnier it will become.”
Jeanine Kuehn of Olympia, studying for an associate’s degree, decided to try her hand at acting to get practice with public speaking. But she got more than that.
Both of her characters are not nice people, which she’s finding challenging and yet fun. “They’re both quite mean; they’re both quite evil. It’s fun to play the bad guy.”
In “A Stye to the Eye,” which skewers the work of Shepard and several other modern playwrights, Kuehn plays the psychiatrist.
“She is just looking to get a book deal,” she said. “She’s not really interested in the patients.”
The audience doesn’t have to know that the psychiatrist is based on the one in John Pielmeier’s “Agnes of God” to find it funny — but it doesn’t hurt, the director said.
“There are a few references that if you really know theater, you are going to get a laugh, but people will not necessarily pick up on it.”
“In ‘For Whom the Southern Belle Tolls,’ a character talks about having 17 gentlemen callers,” he added. “It’s on that intellectual level, which will make it funnier if you know the play.”