"I continued writing Titanic in Jules Feiffer's class," he goes on, "and cut out a section where the Titanic docked at the Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York. Feiffer, who liked the play, said it was a prepubescent temper tantrum of children learning about their parents' 'doing it,' but I think the play is probably too messy to be thematically enclosed. It clearly has to do with children's anger at their parents -- they kill them, after all -- with parents manipulating and seducing their children, and with a certain fear and disgust with sex.... In any case, even though the play is sort of a mess, I think it's a funny and evocative mess, and I'm happy to have it in print."
Okay, but should we be happy to have it on-stage? Few antics endear a small theater company more to this critic than its reaching beyond the usual suspects in choosing plays to produce. I'd much rather see an obscure Durang from time to time than yet another production of Sam Shepard's Buried Child or David Mamet's American Buffalo, which have become chestnuts of the small-theater circuit. That said, the show at the FPT is uneven at best, although highly entertaining, at least for the first 40 of its roughly 75 minutes. Once the ship hits the iceberg (or something to that effect -- I won't give it away here), the comedy begins to sink. That's partly Durang's fault. By this point, he's emptied his bag of outrageous tricks, and his resolutions of dramatic shenanigans are mere formalities.
At the FPT, however, only Ivonne M. Pelaez as Victoria is consistently up to the demands of sophisticated tastelessness. Dressed in a lace evening gown that evokes some of Joan Crawford's early sartorial choices, Pelaez brings an appealing vulnerability to Victoria's craziness. She's drunk on her own delusions. The rest of the cast has moments -- some of them intentional -- in which they hit their marks. Jaki Levy seems as dazed as his character Teddy. Amanda Danielle Becker as Lidia comes across rather too intensely in the small FPT black box. With all those mammals in her nether regions, she could underplay the role to great effect. Her other characters suffer in that they're merely variations on Lidia. Andre Todd Bruni is understated as Higgins, the sailor, which is fine. John J. O'Connor's captain speaks with a Boston-Irish accent, an interesting effect if not exactly a conscious acting choice. And as the clueless Richard, Paul Thomas looks the part, even when his timing is off.
Director Bryan Sears's staging has all the charm of a hastily put-together back-yard production, if back-yard productions had strobe lights and sound systems. Sears and Paul Thomas manage to squeeze three discrete sets, all composed of tacky furniture, into the FPT's tiny performance space. And last but not least, with its spirited and, uh, loud imitation of a luxury liner hitting an iceberg, X-Ray Spex lives up to the cool and unusual aspect of its name, even if Durang's Titanic is not quite shipshape.
Written by Christopher Durang; directed by Bryan Sears; with Ivonne M. Pelaez, Paul Thomas, Jaki Levy, Amanda Danielle Becker, John J. O'Connor, and Andre Todd Bruni. Through May 10. Florida Playwrights' Theater, 1936 Hollywood Blvd, Hollywood; 954-925-8123.