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Happy new life,
Miss Witherspoon 

Happy new life,
Miss Witherspoon 


If you're in New York before January 1, looking for a laugh, don't miss Christopher Durang's new play. And no, it's not about Ryan Phillippe's wife. It's about reincarnation. And Bush. Sort of

Miss Witherspoon has a bad attitude even in the afterlife. Can you blame her? She chose suicide because the world is going to hell in a handbasket and now she's forced to return. Again and again.

Miss Witherspoon is the title character in a new play by Christopher Durang (running through January 1 at New York's Playwrights Horizons). She puts up a feisty resistance to reincarnation, and even when she fails, because her spirit is tired, she doesn't stop trying to end it all over again.

"This woman finds life overwhelming and scary, and, truthfully, a lot of my own phobias and discomfort show up in her," says the out playwright.

In a lighter vein, Durang also wrote Adrift in Macao, which played at the Philadelphia Theatre Company in November and may reappear elsewhere in 2006. Written with composer Peter Melnick, Adrift is a musical parody that evokes Casablanca and film noir of the period. One song, which bears the kooky title "In a Foreign City in a Slinky Dress," is inspired by the movie cliche that the leading lady can simply walk into a nightclub and effortlessly land a job as a singer. In Durang's version the woman has lost all her luggage and shows up in an exotic Chinese town with only a gorgeous evening gown. She's hired immediately, of course.

Since the mid 1970s, Durang, now 56, has charted a unique course, taking American comedy to darkly absurdist heights and populating the stage with wacky, troubled, or seriously neurotic characters.

Miss Witherspoon is played in the current production by Kristine Nielsen, who previously gave life to another truly certifiable Durang creation, the sublimely self-centered, monstrously cheery Mrs. Siezmagraff in Betty's Summer Vacation, a hit in New York six years ago. Miss Witherspoon is less frenetic than Summer Vacation and not as angry or polemical as Durang's earlier Sex and Longing, but the new play, which Durang describes as "a comedy to make you worry," is fueled by the Iraq war fallout and the current fears of terrorism.

"I purposely don't mention Bush," says Durang, "but I find life in the country very disturbing, and that's part of what frightens Miss Witherspoon."

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