A CurtainUp Review
The Drunken City
By Elyse Sommer
What makes Bock a playwright worth watching is that his plays are all quite different, yet they can defined by a common thematic thread and an adventurous approach to telling a story that blends funny and eery, ordinary with extraordinary. As Bock himself has explained that connecting element in his work, he is most interested in writing about people who aren't normally on stage and to have these characters wake up to some truth.
In his latest play, Drunken City, Bock continues his search for situations to make ordinary people (preferably a mix of women and gay men) interesting enough to put them in a play and give them a new perspective on their un-extraordinary lives. It's his most amusingly entertaining play yet and while humor predominates, it's not without poignancy and meaning.
The premise, as Bock explains it in a long program note, is prompted by a dramatic truism: "when a character is drunk he or she will be a truth-teller." Taking this one step further, Bock decided "Hey, why not write a play where everyone is drunk —that way truth'll be flying around everywhich everywhere.Plus it'll be funny because drunk girls are funny and I'm gonna write about some girls in the city."
"The City" is an expression for Manhattan commonly used by folks living in the outer boroughs or the suburbs. Since there's no setting specified after the cast list, I suppose this could be any downtown or bar crawling main destination for people living in a not too distant residential neighborhood. What sends Bock's "girls" headed for a night on the town is a bachelorette party. Each of these twenty-ish women— Melissa (Maria Dizzia), Marnie (Cassie Beck) and Linda (Sue Jean Kim)—is engaged. Marnie's wedding just around the corner and the other two will be bridesmaids.
If this sounds a bit like a been there, done that story, it is —but it isn't. So if you go and meet these women you'll be in for quite a few surprises as you watch the effect of too many drinks and a chance encounter. Once Marni meets Frank (Mike Colter who's freshly and unhappily unengaged) that she becomes skittish about her wedding plans. And, as Marni waivers, so the ground shifts under the whole happy situation of three close friends getting engaged together, having "amazing" weddings and continuing their friendship Noah's Arc style. If you hold off on any preconceptions, you'll appreciate how Bock manages to inject into all the ditzy sillyness a serious sub text about how we often allow ourselves to make life changing decisions for the wrong reasons and then don't have the courage to retreat.
In a departure from the much used device of having one actor set the stage with an audience addressing monologue, Bock's fun and consequences game begins with the three engaged girls coming on stage and showing off their rings, filling us in on the details of their engagements, which include Melissa's almost being out of the loop. Beck, Dizzia and Kim (and especialy Beck) expertly establish their characters' distinctive personalitord and the subtleties that point to potential problems in their friendship as well as their romantic relationships.
The guys, who it turns out live in the same place as the women, add to both the fun and the complications. Frank not only works in the same bank as Marni but is much easier to talk to than her never seen fiance, Gary. Not so incidentally, he's also pleasant to kiss.
Barrett Foa is delightful as the dentist who, besides being gay and emotionally inhibited, does a mean tap dance. A third male and, my own favorite character, is Bob (Alfredo Narciso), the Bob, the baker (also gay and emotionally laid back) for whom Melissa works. In a nice bit of dramatic symmetry, these guys get to have the final scene.
As drink breaks down feelings previously kept under wraps, the truth-spilling dialogue is often most incisive and amusing when quite ordinary; for example, Marnie's confiding to Frank that she wanted to tell her dad that she might have made a mistake but can't bring herself to do it "because he likes her fiance and they both have Toyota Corollas and they both like watching TV together and my Dad's so happy I'm marrying someone like him." Another priceless tidbit comes from Linda's reaction to her guy's proposal: " I got so nervous I went into my room and I took my bottle of Windex and I cleaned my sneakers."
Director Trip Cullman sees to it that the ninety non-stop minutes don't tip too heavily towards the fantastical without allowing things to ever become mundane. Though providing no scenery in the conventional sense, David Korins is quite the magician in the way he make the bare stage occasionally tilt to match the mental see-sawing. Jenny Mannis' costumes zig-zag wittily between the real and the fanciful and Matthew Richards' and Bart Fassbender supply atmospherically sharp lighting and sound.
I don't recommend heavy drinking as the best way to get in touch with one's true feelings. However, I do think audiences, especially those in their twenties and thirties, will have a grand time as vicarious participants in this drunken party in a city that, given the right circumstances, can literally make the ground you're standing on move.
Other Adam Bock plays reviewed at Curtainup
Typographer's Dream 2003 /a>
Five Flights 2004
The Thugs/Bock 2006
The Receptionist 2007