Christopher Durang’s ingenious portrait of urban angst doubles, 19 years after its debut, as an archaeological document. He doesn’t name the store in which his Man and Woman collide over a can of tuna fish, but it’s clearly not the Union Square Whole Foods. The panoply of precise 80s references—ranging from then-mayor Ed Koch to TV doyenne Sally Jessy Raphael and haunted throughout by the specter of AIDS—doesn’t date the show so much as root it in a particular sensibility. Laughing Wild depicts an anarchic New York tottering between depression and manic exhilaration, and which now survives mostly in the minds of veteran city dwellers.
The situation of the Man and Woman, each muddling along in the face of Beckett’s “severest woe,” is made only more poignant by their ephemeral surroundings. The Woman’s impersonation of Dr. Ruth Westheimer on the game show Password might have been a bit of inspired shtick originally; now it’s a memorial to a vanished world. The uncanny stereoscopic effect of the past overlaid on the present adds to the pleasure and strangeness of Durang’s incisive wit (“President Reagan: does he know what he’s talking about, or is he already dead?”). Maddalena Maresca, the Woman in Green Sea Theatre’s revival, handles Durang’s rhythms deftly. She delivers her opening monologue, an associative marvel whose discomforts are heightened by the intimate Under St. Marks space, with a fluid, dervish-like intensity. As the Man, Jimmy Smith projects a likable schlumpiness, but his matching monologue comes off as too studied, lapsing into a recitative style that leaves Durang’s rants sounding stock. Timing issues in the second act undercut the potent possibilities of the Man and Woman’s dreamy encounters, though Maresca conjures up a wicked Sally Jessy Raphael impersonation and Smith brings a goofy charm to the Infant of Prague. Its edges are decidedly rough, but the production maintains a scrappy vitality, bringing Durang’s Brecht-plus-Aaron-Spelling act back to welcome life.