Christopher Durang belongs to a tradition of black humorists and fabulists who first emerged in the 1950’s with the novelists Joseph Heller, Kurt Vonnegut, and Thomas Berger. His plays are ridiculous comedies that agitate the audience without propagating a particular political viewpoint, attacking every “great idea” of Western literature and philosophy merely because it is assailable. His writing centers on the enduring questions of human suffering and authority. His most popular play, Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All for You, was hotly debated by theologians and theater critics alike and won an Obie Award as the best new Off-Broadway play of 1980. His other honors include grants from the Rockefeller Foundation and the Lecomte du Nuoy Foundation, fellowships from Guggenheim and the Columbia Broadcasting System, a Tony nomination for his musical A History of the American Film, the Sidney Kingsley Playwriting Award, and an Obie Award for distinguished playwriting for Betty’s Summer Vacation. He co-chairs the playwriting program at the Julliard School of Manhattan. His work is characterized by energy and a sense of the ridiculous in life and art, sustained by anger and despair. The targets of his abusive wit are the sacred cows of contemporary American society: religion, family life, hero worship, law and order, and success.
Brustein, Robert. “The Crack in the Chimney: Reflections on Contemporary American Playwriting.” Theater 9 (Spring, 1978): 21-29. A discussion of The Vietnamization of New Jersey, set against the more serious examination of the work of David Rabe, in Sticks and Bones.
Durang, Christopher. Introduction to Christopher Durang Explains It All for You. New York: Grove Weidenfeld, 1990. The introduction to this collection of six plays is a tongue-in-cheek autobiography, written in 1982, that includes anecdotes about playwriting classes under Howard Stein and Jules Feiffer and early psychiatric counseling.
Durang, Christopher. “Suspending Disbelief: An Interview with the Playwright by Himself.” American Theater 16, no. 10 (December 1999): 37. A sardonic “interview” in which Durang discusses the writing of Betty’s Summer Vacation, recurrent themes in his work, and future plans. Includes the full text of Betty’s Summer Vacation.
Flippo, Chet. “Is Broadway Ready for Christopher Durang?” New York 15 (March 15, 1982): 40-43. “I was very depressed about how depressed I got,” says Durang in this chatty, readable conversation. Discusses his early revues at Harvard University and cabaret pieces for the Yale School of Drama, his collaboration with Sigourney Weaver, and his development as a “fearless satirist.” Demures on describing his vision of the world. Three photographs.
Savran, David. In Their Own Words: Contemporary American Playwrights. New York: Theatre Communications Group, 1988. A brief overview is followed by a protracted interview, centering on biographical history, the development of The Marriage of Bette and Boo, and Durang’s writing habits. Durang sees advantages to filmmaking (if the playwright’s script is not desecrated as with Beyond Therapy), including reaching a larger audience and enjoying more permanence.
Weales, Gerald. “American Theater Watch, 1981-1982.” The Georgia Review 36 (Fall, 1982): 517-526. Weales offers insightful comments on Durang’s comic style, but he is not impressed by his structure or depth. Drawn from interviews in The New York Times, this article summarizes critics’ first reactions to this new voice.