"Laughing Wild" takes its title from Samuel Beckett, and it shows Christopher Durang in an uncharacteristically spare and serious mood -- not waiting for Godot exactly, but looking for a revelation of some kind.
The summer production of Hartford's TheaterWorks cites Beckett's "laughing wild amid severest woe" as its source.
And, amid jokes about Sally Jessy Raphael, Dr. Ruth, Mother Teresa and the Infant of Prague, the play is full of woe.
The madness and random violence of New York City, the poisoning of food, the tearing away of the ozone layer, the plague of AIDS and the idea that the disease is God's joke on gay people -- all this boils up in this play from the last years of the administration of President Reagan.
Yet along with the hysterical laughter and seething acrimony, there is an odd sort of hope, a commitment to life.
The play ends with a plea that we all breathe together and, while ridiculing the 1987 Harmonic Convergence in Central Park, also communicates a wistful wish that such otherworldly New Age dreams could somehow come true.
Durang, whose playwriting career essentially began during his years as a student at the Yale School of Drama, has pared back and intensified his style since his early days.
While parodistic works such as "The Vietnamization of New Jersey," "The History of American Film" and even " 'denity Crisis," are undeniably more fun than "Laughing Wild," the latter play bears watching -- even in the sometimes strained TheaterWorks production.
The Durang play chosen for this summer by Steve Campo, TheaterWorks artistic director, after the loss of A.R. Gurney's "Love Letters," proves a difficult work, and Campo and his cast do well by it, in the long run.
For a time, however, especially during the long first act, staying with "Laughing Wild" proves something of a chore.