‘Turning Off the Morning News’ tackles today’s issues with a comic twist

By Liz Keill

PRINCETON, N J – Despite the late night comics, no one quite captures the insanity of the political/social status world like Christopher Durang.

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His latest play, “Turning off the Morning News” hit the ground running.  John Pankow as Jimmy addresses the audience, debating whether to kill himself or go to a mall and kill lots of other people as well. His wife, the incomparable Kristine Nielsen as Polly, is equally crazy in a different way. She has delusions that range from being an Olympic swimmer to meeting Joan Rivers on the red carpet in heaven. Their adopted son, Timmy, is played with fine-tuned exasperation by Nicolas Podany. He’s actually relieved to learn he was adopted and not related in any way to his bizarre parents.

Robert Sella as Clifford and Rachel Nicks as Salena are the new neighbors who’ve moved next door and immediately question the goings-on and occasional gun shots. Salena suggests they invite the family over for drinks and, hopefully, learn more about them. She’s also met another neighbor, Jenn Harris as Rosalind. She wears a pillowcase over her head to protect her skins from sun rays and insists on telling them about her Mohs surgery.

Jimmy, when he isn’t depressed, says he wants to be a novelist and win the ‘Pulitzer Surprise.’  Clifford has moved to town to be an associate editor for the local newspaper, which seems somewhat dated in our Internet age. As the play moves on, we learn he has his own loss and heartache. That may account for his nervous manner. Salena keeps the coolest head of all these characters, but we never learn her back story.

None of this sounds particularly hilarious, and some of it is downright scary because of the reality of today’s morning, evening and all-day news.  Several years ago much of the plot might have been considered outlandish. Sad to say, today it’s the new normal. Still, there’s a lot to learn from this well crafted, 90-minute production. Perhaps humor helps us put it all in perspective.

Emily Mann has directed a sterling cast with a sure hand. Beowulf Boritt’s set design is a clever arrangement of houses with a turntable that allows fluid shifts between the two living rooms.  “Turning Off the Morning News” continues through June 3. For tickets, call 609-258-2787 or visit mccarter.org.