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University of Iowa News Release

March 31, 2006

Durang's 'Vacation' Takes Deadly Aim At Sensationalism April 13-23

Christopher Durang's barbed comedy "Betty's Summer Vacation" will be the final production of the University Theatres Mainstage season at the University of Iowa. Performances will be at 8 p.m. April 13-15 and 19-22, and at 3 p.m. Sunday, April 23, in the E.C. Mabie Theatre of the UI Theatre Building.

In "Betty's Summer Vacation," which won four 1999 Obie Awards, Durang takes deadly satiric aim at our voyeuristic culture's increasing tendency to regard all sorts of tragic, violent, tasteless and sensational experiences as entertainment.

Betty thinks she is going to take a relaxing vacation at the shore, but not only does everything go horribly wrong -- she's housed with a sex maniac, a family with a history of incest and perhaps a serial killer -- but the beach timeshare comes with a laugh track in response to every grotesque assault, and voices from the attic that demand to be entertained by even more violence and chaos. The pace is delirious, the events are shocking, the language is coarse, the implications are horrifying and the laughter builds subversively to an unexpected climax.

"This is Durang at his edgy, inimitable best," says director Eric Forsythe, a faculty member in the UI Department of Theatre Arts. "I truly believe it's a modern masterpiece. He takes on our seemingly insatiable need for sensationalism, and makes a heartfelt plea for people to take personal responsibility for their actions. It's a noble cause, and funny, funny, funny."

"Several years ago, we devoted a Summer Rep season to Chris Durang's work; it was a hugely popular summer. Now Durang has presented us with 'Betty's Summer Vacation,' a play I think is miles beyond his earlier work: a considerable feat!"

Durang has explained his intentions, "The theme of the play is, basically, the 'tabloid-ization' of American culture -- how in the '90s in particular, human nature's interest in horror and gossip combined with television's need to hook viewers, and the result was we all fell into the habit of looking at human tragedy and disgusting behavior as a fascinating kind of 'mini-series' for our delectation."

In response to the play's sold-out, extended run at Playwrights Horizons in New York, Curtis Ellis of MSNBC called "Betty's Summer Vacation" "not only wickedly funny but a trenchant commentary on the state of American culture and the most original play to hit the New York stage in years."

Ben Brantley of the New York Times proclaimed it "an ecstatically angry new comedy . . . Please welcome Mr. Durang back to the ranks of America's liveliest living playwrights. This deeply influential dramatist, who steered the suburban domestic comedy into dark and uncharted waters in the 1970s and 1980s, has been mostly silent in the last decade. With 'Vacation,' however, Mr. Durang is in fighting trim, an anarchic moralist with a mission to entertain us while pointing out how pathetically addicted we are to being entertained."

Durang has long been recognized as a master of dark comedy, a reputation he established with works including "Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You," "Laughing Wild," "Beyond Therapy" and "Baby with the Bathwater." He collaborated with school chum Sigourney Weaver on "Das Lusitania Songspiel," for which they were both nominated for Drama Desk awards for Best Performer in a Musical.

Among his many other honors are several Obie Awards, the Dramatists Guild Hull Warriner Award and a Tony Award nomination.

In 1995 he won the prestigious three-year Lila Wallace Readers Digest Writers Award; as part of his grant, he ran a writing workshop for adult children of alcoholics. In 2000 he won the Sidney Kingsley Playwriting Award, and since 1994 he has been co-chair with Marsha Norman of the playwriting program at the Juilliard School in Manhattan.

He has also acted in movies including "The Secret of My Success," "Mr. North," "The Butcher's Wife," "Housesitter" and "The Cowboy Way."

Other artistic contributors to "Betty's Summer Vacation" include set designer Craig Napoliello, costume designer Loyce Arthur, lighting designer S. Benjamin Farrar, sound designer Scott M. Hanlin and dramaturg John Baker.

This production includes material of an adult nature. Potential audiences members who are concerned about whether it is appropriate for them should contact the Department of Theatre Arts, 319-335-2700, for additional information.

Tickets are $17; UI student, senior citizen & youth $8. Tickets may be purchased in advance from the Hancher box office. Any remaining tickets for each performance will be available one hour before curtain time at the Theatre Building box office.

Hancher Auditorium box office business hours are 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. weekdays and 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturdays. From the local calling area, dial 319-335-1160. Long distance is toll-free, 1-800-HANCHER. People with special needs for access, seating and auxiliary services should dial 319-335-1158, which is equipped with TDD for people with hearing impairment who use that technology.

Tickets may be ordered on-line 24 hours a day, seven days a week through Hancher's website: www.hancher.uiowa.edu .

Orders may be charged to VISA, MasterCard or American Express. UI students may charge their purchases to their university bills, and UI faculty and staff may select the option of payroll deduction. Information and brochures may be requested by e-mail: hancher-box-office@uiowa.edu.

The Department of Theatre Arts is a unit of the Division of Performing Arts in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

For UI arts information and calendar updates, visit http://www.uiowa.edu/artsiowa. To receive UI arts news by e-mail, ur-acr@uiowa.edu.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Arts Center Relations, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 351, Iowa City, IA 52242-2500.

MEDIA CONTACT: Winston Barclay, 319-384-0073, winston-barclay@uiowa.edu

PHOTOS are available at http://www.uiowa.edu/artsiowa/photos.html.