What could be more soothing than listening to ocean waves lapping on a beach? That was Betty's thought when she arranged a summer share. But rather than invite friends, it seems Betty has recruited housemates from an asylum for the deranged.
That's the premise of Christopher Durang's "Betty's Summer Vacation," now receiving a timely reprise at Bay Street Theatre. Durang's 1999 laugh-track screed presciently savages our voracious reality-TV appetite for emotional and physical mayhem.
It's instantly apparent that Betty, played with Everywoman vulnerability by Heidi Schreck, is a poor judge of her fellow renters' characters. She arrives at the beach house (invitingly airy set by Walt Spangler, sunshine/moonglow lighting by Ben Stanton) with Trudy, whose chatter drowns out the ocean. Inexhaustibly rambling as played by Celia Keenan-Bolger, Trudy's mouth is a defense mechanism against inner demons. As her aptly named mother, Mrs. Siezmagraff, explains at her arrival, "Her father incested her when he was drunk, and I never did anything about it because I was codependent."
Mrs. Siezmagraff's chirpy lunacy, embraced by the brilliant Veanne Cox as if she owns it, is counterbalanced by the quiet desperation of Keith, who comes to the beach with a hat box and a snow shovel, wearing a shirt buttoned to the collar (character-enhancing costumes by Emily Rebholz). Trudy takes a shine to Keith (menacingly withdrawn as played by Bobby Steggert), though she speculates he's a serial killer.
No summer share would be complete without a sex maniac. John Behlmann's lanky, leeringly handsome Buck aces the profile. But he's not the only one on the make. A widow, Mrs. S. isn't choosy about male companionship. She picks up a vagrant she found taking photos in a ladies restroom. In a game of charades, randy Mr. Vanislaw (Tom Riis Farrell) completes the clue to "One Touch of Venus" by flashing his "sounds-like."
Director Trip Cullman orchestrates this dark and dirty farce into a creepy gallop, hilarious when viewed from a safe distance. But the laughing voices that haunt this beach house draw us into proximity as they begin making obscene demands: Give us a Lorena Bobbitt moment! (Or, though her name isn't dropped here, a Casey Anthony tragedy.) Like us, they're consumers of media-driven chaos.
Betty's vacation is no mere frolic. It's an R-rated mirror on our times and tastes.
WHAT "Betty's Summer Vacation," by Christopher Durang
WHEN | WHERE Thursday night, Friday night and Tuesday nights at 8, Saturday at 4 and 8 p.m., Sunday at 7 p.m., Wednesday at 2 and 8 p.m., through July 31 at Bay Street Theatre, Long Wharf, Sag Harbor
INFO $55-$65; baystreet. org, 631-725-9500