We've all been in a home, including our own, when we hear noises that appear to have no source and no explanation. But few of us have heard a disembodied laugh track, as the bizarre characters do in Betty's Summer Vacation. And it's those cacklers that tie this dark comedy together at the Bang and Clatter in Akron.
Written by Christopher Durang, with an eye toward gory truth-telling, this play throws a gaggle of goofy individuals into a haunted time-share at the beach and lets them fend for themselves. Even though there are many character-shaping beats bulldozed into dust in the early going, this production, under the direction of Ryan McMullen, finally reaches a kind of manic pitch, which serves the material well.
The Betty of the title (Rachel D. Zake) is the most normal of the bunch, as she diligently shops for food and prepares a meal while everything around her is fast becoming detached, literally and figuratively. Her girlfriend Trudy is a self-confessed chatterbox with a troubled past, part of which is on hand in the person of her mother, Mrs. Sizemagraff. Mom is equally hyperactive, a free-floating co-dependent, and a lush to boot. Mrs. S. leans on her fondness for hooch to explain why she didn't realize Trudy was being sexually abused by her husband years before.
Into this dysfunctional mix are added the eerily quiet, supposed-serial-killer Keith, who carries a shovel and a hatbox; a walking hard-on named Buck, who needs sex every hour or so; and a scraggly, raincoat-clad flasher, Mr. Vanislaw.
Durang's most inventive device, however, is the laugh-track chorus, which not only guffaws, but also provides a quick analysis of why the laughers thought it was funny ("That was corny," "It was so true it was funny").
Jeanne Task wisely resists the temptation to take Mrs. Sizemagraff over the top, but still manages to generate plenty of uncomfortable laughs as she pursues the grimy and noxious flasher with unseemly ardor. Jim Viront is splendidly repulsive as Vanislaw, and Scott Shriner's almost-mute Keith is a self-contained creep show all by himself.
Trudy (Rachel Roberts) and Buck (Mike Goudis) speed through an early conversation without finding the contour of their respective characters, which gives the play a rushed feel at the start. But they each smooth out their performances until, in the second act, the voices materialize, and a weird game of charades and a Court TV-type procedural wrap up the ghastly and comical goings-on. •