Custom Made treatment of Christopher Durang 

There’s no other playwright like Christopher Durang. The acclaimed American satirist has a distinctive gift for spinning comedy from serious issues, making audiences stop and think even as they laugh out loud.

“He’s quite special,” says Daunielle Rasmussen, the associate artistic director of Custom Made Theatre. “I’m always drawn to dramatic plays by writers like Sam Shepard. But Durang feels very similar to me. He tackles some of the same issues and he’s not afraid to make fun of them and ask us to look at ourselves through his lens.”

Rasmussen is directing one half of Custom Made’s “Durang Me!” a double bill featuring two of the playwright’s popular one-acts. On the bill are “Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All for You,” directed by Rasmussen, and “The Actor’s Nightmare,” directed by Gabriel Ross.

“Sister Mary Ignatius” is especially incisive. Drawn from Durang’s Catholic childhood, it portrays a confrontation between a nun and four unhappy former students.

“Three of the students are angry at her for what she did to them — physical and emotional abuse,” explains Rasmussen. “But the fourth character, Diane, is angry about what Sister Mary taught her. She can’t reconcile the dogma — that the world makes sense because there is a God — with all the bad things that have happened to her.

“That’s a problem many people have with Catholicism: There’s no gray area. If you do this, you go to heaven; do that, you go to hell. But, for Diane, the world isn’t like that.”

If the play sounds serious, Durang makes it hilarious.

The director’s challenge, says Rasmussen, is balancing the two. “It’s funny, and it’s also very deep,” she says. “If you focus on the depth, then it’s not funny anymore.”

“Sister Mary Ignatius” was first produced in 1979; Rasmussen says it still feels fresh. “It’s extremely relevant right now, with everything that’s been going on with the Catholic Church,” she says. “That’s the thing about Durang — even though he wrote this 30 years ago, it’s still very timely.”

The evening also includes Ross’ production of “The Actor’s Nightmare,” in which a man finds himself lost in a show he can’t quite remember. Written in 1981, it’s become a classic.

“It’s such a fun show, and Gabe is doing a fantastic job with it,” says Rasmussen.

Both plays fit with Custom Made’s point of view, says Rasmussen, who joined the company a little over a year ago. “We’re more of a cerebral, poetical-oriented company,” she says. “We generally choose plays that say something or ask questions.”

Durang does both, says the director, who hopes that audiences are entertained and energized by the production.

“I hope they’ll enjoy themselves, and I know they’ll laugh a lot,” he says. “But, especially with ‘Sister Mary,’ I hope they’ll walk away having a conversation. That’s why I like Durang — he’s very thought-provoking. You go away thinking about it, processing it. You can’t stop talking about it.”


IF YOU GO
Durang Me!

Presented by Custom Made Theatre

Where: The Next Stage, 1620 Gough St. (at Bush Street), San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays; 7 p.m. Sundays; closes July 10
Tickets: $18 to $28
Contact: (800) 838-3006, www.CustomMade.org

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Staff Report

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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