"Betty's Summer Vacation" is No Vacation!

A Full Length Play by Christopher Durang

Beach house
Betty just wanted to spend a quiet week at the shore... R.M. Flynn

Christopher Durang's plays are well-known for addressing taboo content in a biting and humorous manner. Betty’s Summer Vacation, with its talk of incest, murder, mutilation, rape, “three ways,” exposing/flashing, and more, is no exception. Durang notes that his sometimes irreverent manner in dealing with these sensitive topics is meant to reveal to an audience just how far news and entertainment have gone in desensitizing people towards topics that should produce feelings of horror and revulsion, but which are now are glossed over alongside stories of the latest Hollywood scandals.

He likens modern audiences to those in Ancient Rome who found entertainment in gladiator battles and sending Christians to fight lions. He writes:

“But I’ve not written a documentary, I’ve written a play; and it’s a farcical play as well, in which we are not meant to EMPATHIZE with the characters the way one is meant to empathize with Blanche DuBois or Willy Loman; it’s more like following the stories of Candide and Cunnegonde in Candide, or the characters in a Joe Orton farce, or even the characters in a 1930s screwball comedy (though admittedly a dark one).”

It may be jarring to read or experience a Durang play if you are unprepared for his style. But, Durang aims for “healing laughter” that comes from serious events that are now distant enough from an audience that when described in a particular manner can be found humorous.

Plot Synopsis

Betty is on summer vacation in a shared rental property with her friend Trudy, Trudy’s mother Mrs. Siezmagraff, Keith, and Buck.

Trudy is a talkative young woman who grates on Betty’s nerves. Buck is an over-sexed lout and Keith just might be a serial killer with a head in a hatbox.

Mrs. Siezmagraff is a codependent, "Auntie Mame-ish" wild woman. She invites a homeless man, Mr. Vanislaw, to come over for the night as her date.

Mr.Vanislaw is wearing a trench coat and sneakers and he flashes everyone in the house and alludes to his penis every chance he gets. Trudy and Betty beg Mrs. Siezmagraff to keep Mr. Vanislaw under control, but she refuses to acknowledge his lewd behavior just as she refused to acknowledge that her late husband molested Trudy.

After a night of charades, Mrs. Siezmagraff and Mr. Vanislaw go out drinking. Mrs. Siezmagraff passes out on the floor and Mr. Vanislaw, mad that his date is no longer able to perform, goes in search of Trudy and rapes her. Afterwards Trudy is furious with her mother for allowing the man into their house and demands that she do something, but Mrs. Siezmagraff turns a blind eye and says, “Every time I get a husband or a boyfriend, Trudy’s always after them.” Trudy is enraged and grabs a kitchen knife and cuts off Mr. Vanislaw’s penis. Keith then cuts off his head.

During these events there is canned laughter, similar to that of a laugh track, coming from the ceiling. At first it is sporadic and confusing to the characters, but eventually they become accustomed to the laughter and question why some line or action might get a laugh while others do not. Then the Voices in the ceiling start talking back to the characters and making requests.

Those requests soon turn into demands.

When Mrs. Siezmagraff calls 911 and the dispatcher tells her to bring Keith and Trudy to the police station, and Betty goes for a walk, and Buck leaves to find the towns’ easy widow, and there is no one left for the Voices to watch, they get frustrated and angry and crash through the ceiling and into the setting of the play. They are a three-headed monster of sorts. They have three different personalities, but share a connected body bound with wires and tubing.

The Voices demand that Betty and the rest of the residents at the summer share put on a courtroom drama to entertain them. After an Oscar worthy performance by Mrs. Siezmagraff in which she plays defense attorney, abusive mother, and long lost Irish maid, The Voices pronounce Keith and Trudy innocent of all charges.

However, The Voices won’t stop there. They want violence and more violence. They want Keith to cut off more heads and Trudy to cut off more penises. When Buck comes home, this is just what Keith and Trudy do, all the while bonding nicely over the gruesome experience. The Voices want more. They want Keith to blow up the house. Betty begs to escape and manages to run as Keith turns on the gas stove and pulls out a match.

Production Details

Setting: A nice seaside summer community - maybe somewhere on the New Jersey shore. Not a trendy, chic location.

Time: Summer

Cast Size: This play can accommodate 9 actors.

Male Characters: 5

Female Characters: 4

Characters that could be played by either males or females: 0

Roles

Betty is a reasonable young woman. She is the most "normal" of the group of characters assembled at the summer share. She feels pressured by her job and her mother and is looking for a relaxing vacation at the beach.

Trudy uses words as medication. She speaks long and incessantly about anything and everything. She is not used to being listened to and is surprised when Betty or The Voices acknowledge her. She is desperate for attention.

Keith is a quiet young man who is looking to be left alone. He had a troubled childhood similar to Trudy’s and learned to cope by cutting off people’s heads.

Buck is a “lout-hunk.” He is sexist in a naïve way. He believes that all women want to be with him just as he wants to be with them. He prefers to get off about 20 times a day and feels in pain if he falls short of this number.

Mrs. Siezmagraff is a grand old woman. She lives life in a large way with self-inflicted blinders. She refuses to see herself or her daughter as a victim, instead choosing to view Trudy as competition for the love/lust of despicable men.

Mr. Vanislaw is a derelict who gets his jollies by exposing himself to women as often as possible. He is uncomplicated and unapologetic in his wants and desires.

The Group of Voices are comprised of two men and one woman. They are a cross section of demographics that TV stations poll to see what America finds entertaining.

Production/Character Notes

In the script provided by Dramatists Play Service, Inc, Christopher Durang has notes for potential directors, actors, and producers. He writes about tone, character choices, the use of blood and much more. Any theatre or company looking to produce Betty’s Summer Vacation would find it useful to read and study these notes.

Content Issues: Language, murder, violence, rape, incest, sex