Friendly reviews and a demand for tickets have prompted Playwrights Horizons to add yet another week to the limited run of Christopher Durang's Betty's Summer Vacation, to April 18.
The manic comedy, which puts a serial killer, a sex addict, an abuse victim, a drunk, an exhibitionist -- and a fiercely vocal offstage laughtrack and commentary -- in the same beach house, must close April 18 to make way for the final show in Playwrights' season, Richard Nelson's Goodnight Children Everywhere, beginning May 7.
By close, Betty's Summer Vacation will have played 26 previews and 41 performances.
Outside producers have come to see if the comedy, which skewers dysfunctional people and the media's obsession with them, has a potential commercial life beyond the limited nonprofit run. The play is a fierce comeback for Durang, whose Sex and Longing took a drubbing at Lincoln Center two seasons ago.
Filled with more dysfunctional characters and hot-button issues that a week's worth of daytime TV talk shows, Betty's Summer Vacation was expected to close March 28, and was previously extended to April 4 and then April 11. Strong reviews, including an embrace from The New York Times, prompted an immediate sellout following the March 14 opening, and some tickets during the previous extension are still available, according to a spokesperson. A nightly cancellation line has formed outside the box office.
The original cast will remain intact.
The comedy -- a raucous indictment of tabloid culture audiences -- has been cheered by fans of the absurdist-steeped, subversive Durang, who packs a summer-share beach house with an abuse victim, a serial killer, a drifter-exhibitionist, a sex addict and a psychotic, alcoholic matron who is part Auntie Mame and part Ethel Merman. At the center of the mayhem is Betty (played by Kellie Overbey), who just wanted some quiet.
Betty is not amused to discover that in addition to her housemates, there is a laughtrack and audience commentary coming from the ceiling.
Since previews began Feb. 19, Betty's Summer Vacation, directed by Nicholas Martin, has also had its detractors: Some theatregoers have walked out of the play, which is liberally spiced with references to rape, incest, dismemberment and more.
Nevertheless, the Times review of the bigger-than-life, wild comedy are prompting commercial producers to ask the question, "Can Summer go on and on...?"
The cast includes Guy Boyd (Sex and Longing), Geneva Carr, Nat DeWolf, Jack Ferver, Julie Lund, Kristine Nielsen (Dog Opera), Godfrey L. Simmons Jr. and Troy Sostillio (Corpus Christi, Gross Indecency).
Overbey recently appeared in the Steppenwolf Theatre Company Broadway production of Sam Shepard's Buried Child.
Designers are Thomas Lynch (scenic), Michael Krass (costumes), Kevin Adams (lighting) and Kurt B. Kellenberger (sound).
Sex and Longing also dealt with sex addiction, along with American Puritanism and governmental and religious hypocrisy. The Lincoln Center production was not liked by critics and had a short run at Broadway's Cort Theatre.
Other works by the playwright, whose comedies often push the dark limits of farce, include Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You, The Actor's Nightmare, Nina in the Morning, Wanda's Visit, A Stye of the Eye, Mrs. Sorken and History of the American Film.
In addition to Full Gallop, Martin has directed The Rehearsal at the Roundabout Theatre Company, Bosoms and Neglect at Signature Theatre Company and Overtime at Manhattan Theatre Club. In summer 1998, he piloted both The Matchmaker and Jonathan Marc Sherman's new Evolution at the Williamstown Theatre Festival.
Betty's Summer Vacation tickets are $37.50. Playwrights Horizons is at 416 W. 42nd St. For information, call (212) 279-4200.
-- By Kenneth Jones