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Christopher Durang

Permanently outrageous | an interview with Christopher Durang

In his nearly 40-year career, playwright Christopher Durang has never pulled his punches. Outrageous and iconoclastic, Durang has mined humor from all manner of foolishness in American society.

For example, in his 1980 Broadway hit “Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You,” a gay former pupil comes out to the mean-spirited Sister Mary. She replies, “You mean you do the thing that makes our Lord Jesus Christ puke?” His latest play, “Why Torture Is Wrong, and the People Who Love Them,” is a comedy about terrorism and torture.

“I’m tickled by how successful the comedy worked,” he says. “The whole play came out of living through all the red state/blue state stuff and the Bush/Cheney administration. I myself was so tortured by the political reality, that I found it hard to be funny.”

“Torture” is really about the political divide in America. It doesn’t refer to any specific events or figures. But six days after the play opened in New York last April, its popularity was boosted by the Justice Department’s release of memos disclosing the brutal interrogation techniques authorized by President Bush.

Although he is known as a gay playwright, Durang’s latest hit has no gay themes. It does have a gay connection, though.

“I got a call from Richard Ganoung in Madison, Wis., about the play,” Durang says. “I had never met him, but Richard starred in one of the best gay-themed movies ever made, ‘Parting Glances.’ He wanted to star in ‘Why Torture is Wrong,’ and he wanted it to be the Midwestern premiere of my play.”

Ganoung got his wish. The play opens Dec. 30 and at the Forward Theater Company at the Overture Center for the Arts in Madison. It will run through January 17. Tickets are available through www.overturecenter.com.

Does Durang consider himself a “gay playwright?” “When I was younger, I guess, to be honest, I didn’t,” he said. “My first plays had no gay content. But then, in ‘Sister Mary Ignatius,’ it appeared. I wanted to present a cross section of people whose lives didn’t match what they were told. I became more aware that I wanted to present a gay character who was sympathetic.

“For my generation, being gay and in the theater was easier than teaching public school. I’m glad I’m referred to as gay in my personal life, but not my professional life. I’m relieved that people don’t usually talk about me as writing about the same topic time after time.”

In “The Marriage of Bette and Boo,” playing at the Boulevard Theatre through Jan. 2, the sexuality of the narrator Matt is a veiled secret. “Early on, in the first version of the play, there was a scene about Matt being involved with an alcoholic gay man. It just didn’t work. Matt wasn’t really the hero of the play in that way. The play was really not about Matt, but his family, so I cut the scene.”

Durang lives in Pennsylvania with John Augustine, his partner of more than 20 years. “We met in 1986, moved in together in 1988, and have been together ever since.”

Durang is currently working on a cabaret show staring Michael Feinstein and Dame Edna, playing themselves. Opening in March, the work is built around the hilarious premise that the hall inadvertently has been double booked, forcing Feinstein and Dame Edna to begrudgingly work together. With his imagination on permanent overdrive, this latest effort is not likely to be the last we’ll hear from Durang.

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