Playwright: Christopher Durang. At: Cock & Bull Theatre at Athenaeum Theatre, 2136 N. Southport Ave. Phone: 773-935-6860; $12-$17.50. Web: www.CockandBullTheatre.org . Runs through: Jan. 28
Cock & Bull Theatre's Titanic at the Athenaeum Theatre is not the 1997 Tony Award-winning musical. Nor is it a spoof on James Cameron's 11-time Academy Award-wining blockbuster film.
This particular Titanic is an obscure 1976 off-Broadway flop by out playwright Christopher Durang. He's better known for acclaimed absurdist comedies filled with sharp social commentary like Betty's Summer Vacation, Beyond Therapy or Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You.
Durang's Titanic is absurdist all right, but aggravatingly so. It's a puzzler exactly why Durang felt the need to place his anachronistic characters that are sexually abusive and orientation-shifting aboard the ill-fated 1912 ocean liner that sank on its maiden journey. Nearly as head-scratching is why Cock & Bull Theatre felt the need to lavish so much time and effort on this play that is so blatantly juvenile and out to shock for shock's sake.
Titanic follows the bickering husband-and-wife duo of Victoria and Richard Tammurai ( Sarah Hecht and Noah Lepawsky ) , who hurl their infidelities at each other in their first scene while terrifying their timid 14-year-old son Teddy ( Matthew Olson ) into wondering exactly who his parents really are.
In the mix comes the captain's aggressive daughter, Lidia ( Sarah Jackson, done up to look very Bettie Page ) , who has a penchant for stuffing live animals up her vaginal cavity. Lidia also shifts how she's related to select people aboard, so you never know if she really is Teddy's deceptive aunt or long-lost sister.
Also aboard is the ship's captain ( Edward Karch ) , who has a fetish for dildo headgear and white bread. Then there's the sailor Higgins ( Daniel Dvorkin ) who finds himself in various states of undress throughout the show.
Titanic is undoubtedly difficult to perform with so little that makes sense or so few plot strands to tie into any form of social commentary. ( You tell me if it's supposed to be a criticism about parental domineering and deception. ) So the actors at least deserve some credit for delivering lines that spur the occasional laugh or comic groan.
Also admirable are the handsome production values like the assembled period costumes ( no designer is credited ) and set designer Heinrich Haley's work featuring watery plastic sidewalls and three oversize portholes for characters to pop their heads through to make interjections.
Like the play, Chris Garcia Peak's direction is sometimes a mess. The production's over-long pantomimed prologue could be shortened and the task of moving characters on and off stage is sometimes muddled.
One saving grace for Cock & Bull's Titanic is that it allows Durang fans to finally see a production of his notorious flop that originally starred Sigourney Weaver. Otherwise, it's not really a show worth recommending.