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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
The Alamo

"Welcome to The Alamo, The Last Great American Bar. If you listen closely you can hear the Mexicans out there fixing their bayonets." — Joey
The Alamo
Kelsey Griswold and Tim True. (Photo by Ed Krieger)
The Alamo, (or at least if you're going to remember it fondly), it will be for the play's first act. The denizens of the Brooklyn bar at the play's center are a genial if damaged bunch; the socio-historical backdrop is recognizable, if not especially urgent, and most of the company members of this Ruskin Theatre Group world premiere have what it takes to keep us engaged and invested.

Post-intermission, however, Ian McRae's play seriously jumps the rails and can't find its way back on track. What began as a play about trying to hold on to a center in a dangerously fluctuating world dissolves into a series of pat or mawkish encounters that don't effectively or logically bring this tale home. In director Kent Thompson's production, the second act pitfalls also expose the weakness of several cast members who don't seem to know what tone to take. Humor? Poignancy? Fury? All of the above?

If the playwright's notes are to be believed, The The Alamo was written out of McRae's anger over the United States' involvement in Iraq, most immediately, and at other national missteps including Vietnam, our mistreatment of Native Americans, and the effects of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The play originated as a 10-minute work inspired by a Washington Post Op-Ed “The Hard Lessons of Iraq." In expanding it to the two-hour-plus format at the Ruskin Group's Santa Monica stage, McRae has brought in a bunch of themes, “colonialism, nativism, terrorism, racism, war, class, change, race," which he is grouping together under the thematic rubric of accountability, both personal and national.

Well and good, but a play about ordinary folks can only hold so much lofty baggage. It's not entirely inconceivable that the same retired cop who ministered to the dying John Lennon should have lost a brother in Vietnam and hangs out at a bar whose owners lost a friend in the 9/11 attacks, but it's certainly convenient plot-wise. If we get too many more historical touchpoints, we will start looking over to see whether Forrest Gump is seated at the next bar stool.

The aforementioned cop, Joey (played by Bobby Costanzo) is a racist, foul-mouthed, angry, egotistical blowhard who still carries a gun. He's also, heaven help us, The The Alamo's narrator who introduces every scene with a monologue designed to crack open both his own problems and the play's agenda. Costanzo has no difficulty conveying the man's boorishness, anger, and ineffectiveness, but there's not much in this performance to indicate why the bar's owners haven't shown this guy the door years ago. And after one or two scene opening speeches, the character has worn out his narrator's welcome.

A neighborhood hangout in working class Brooklyn for decades, the The Alamo is about to get a facelift. On an early April day in 2013, coinciding with the start of baseball season (most of the regulars are Yankees fans while a couple of die-hards root for the Mets), Joey and his fellow barflies learn how much things must change. The bar will get a paint job and familiar trappings (including a picture of Joey's dead brother) have come off the wall, possibly never to return. Bar owner Munce (Tim True) and his wife Carmen (Eileen Galindo) are considering bringing in live music, spoken word, or anything else that might entice a younger more gentrified clientele. This isn't the most pleasant news to folks like Joey, sanitation worker Dominic (John Lacy) and union organizer Tick (Jack Merrill), each of whom is at least in his mid 50s and is not exactly embracing of change. But these regulars can barely even pay their bar tabs. Neighborhood loyalty is one thing, but Carmen wants the place to make some money.

In his one nod both to the Alamo's past and future, Munce has hired Micaela (Kelsey Griswold alternating with Julia Arian) to do the painting. The daughter of a former firefighter, The Alamo regular, and longtime friend of Munce's who lost his life when the towers fell, Micaela blew off college and is talking about eventually moving to California. She's beloved in the neighborhood and has a standing offer to work at the bar. For reasons that we will learn later, Micaela's mother Mary (Milica Govich), doesn't want her daughter within 50 square blocks of that bar. Mary works at the Sept 11 Museum and can't easily let go of the tragedy. She and her daughter rarely see eye-to-eye on anything.

Munce and Carmen are experiencing some troubles of their own, and Micaela proves to be a touchpoint between them. We later meet Tick's wife, Claudine, (Nancy Georgini) who comes in for a single scene that would, under most circumstances, be stomach-churningly uncomfortable, but is played here largely for its comic value. That's in the second act during where, as previously mentioned, nearly every scene feels like the playwright is trying either to wrap up loose ends or hit its thematic touchstones.

True is a steadying presence as Munce, gently paternal with Griswold's Micaela, gruff and collegial with the boys, and devotedly in sync with his pissed off wife. Munce too has a back story including failed baseball dreams and probably alcoholism and in True's performance, we witness a man trying to hold everything together. Griswold and Govich possess credible chemistry to convey a mother and daughter who have long been at loggerheads. Merrill's Tick is also a sufficiently interesting character that we miss him when he drops out of the play practically until the end.

By this time, however, between the weight of everyone's angst, the inevitability of upcoming neighborhood, and the universality of Joey's ill will, any visitor to the The Alamo &emdash; the play and bar alike &emdash; should be ready for the last call.

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The Alamo by Ian McRaer
Directed by Kent Thompson
Cast: Bobby Costanzo, Eileen Galindo, Nancy Georgini, Milica Govich, Julia Arian, Kelsey Griswold, John Lacy, Jack Merrill and Tim True
Production Manager: Mike Reilly
Set Designer: John Iacovelli
Lighting Designer: Edward Sales
Sound Desin: Chip Bolcik
Costume Design: Emily N. Smith
Production Stage Manager: Nicole Millar
Plays through March 31, 2018 at the Ruskin Group Theatre, 3000 Airport Ave., Santa Monica. (310) 397-3244,
Running time: Two hours 15 minutes with one 15 minute intermission
Reviewed by Evan Henerson

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