“The Drunken City” serves up intoxicating comedy at the Asolo Conservatory.
Adam Bock’s “The Drunken City” is the Asolo Conservatory’s latest cocktail. The play opens with three young women in riotously colored party dresses. They’re all giggling and flashing engagement rings, twirling like the animated flowers of “Fantasia.” It’s a perfect moment. Nothing could possibly go wrong.
We all know how that usually works out.
Flash forward three weeks. Sure enough, the giddy joy is gone for the girls in their summer dresses. Linda (Colleen Lafeber) is in the middle of a protracted drinking binge. Melissa (Kedren Spencer) moans that her fiancé dumped her. Marnie (Mary Ellen Everett) fakes joy at her impending marriage to the unseen Gary—and drops hints that he’s a paternalistic, controlling creep. Plastering fake smiles to their faces, the girls head out for a bachelorette party in the unnamed City. One big night on the town.
They’re on a collision course with the recently jilted Frank (Nola Fitzgerald Hennelly), and Eddie (Christopher Carlson). Marnie and Frank get a look at each other. They both feel the thunderbolt—and instantly start smooching. As they kiss, the earth literally moves under their feet. (As in stagehands rocking and rolling the set to make it look like an earthquake.) Once the shaking stops, Marnie’s cold feet turn into hot feet. She runs off with Frank, and they both hide out from the judgmental Melissa, who’s determined not to let another dream wedding go down in flames. More drunken hijinks ensue. 80 minutes of alcohol-fueled silliness, to be precise. How entertaining is that?
In real life, not much. The inebriated are charming to themselves, not so charming to others. But the intoxication of this play is a kind of theatrical shorthand.
In an interview for The Brooklyn Rail, the playwright observed that drunks lose their reality filter. They talk too much, break boundaries, spill secrets, tell truths, and notice things they normally wouldn’t.
So, in vino veritas. But also in vino velocitas.
Getting the characters drunk just speeds things up. They waste no time stripping down to their real selves.
Director Jesse Jou takes a light touch to this light material. Serious issues of love, commitment, marriage and other adult headaches bubble up, but it’s all played for laughs.
The second-year student actors collide like overgrown children in a bouncy castle. Everett’s Marnie is really the central character. Emblazoned in a tiara and Bride-to-Be sash, she’s locked on a trajectory to a lousy marriage out of sheer inertia and fear of confrontation. In the Wonderland logic of the play, intoxication sobers her up and sets her straight. Lafeber’s Linda is a guileless innocent with alcohol-induced memory lapses and occasional bursts of mystic insight. (Drink only in moderation, kids!) Spencer’s Melissa gets the thankless task of playing a shrewish killjoy, relentlessly determined to get Marnie to the church on time. (After Marnie’s breakup, it’s understandable, but Bock could’ve made the character more sympathetic.) Frank is brainy and low key, like a minor character on “The Big Bang Theory”—meeting Marnie literally turns him on. Carlson’s high-energy Eddie tap-dances up a storm but keeps his feelings to himself. A tightly wound baker named Bob (Anthony J. Hamilton), is the de facto enforcer. Melissa calls him in to knock some sense into Marnie. Bob unwinds, after experiencing a thunderbolt moment of his own.
The City itself is a character—a drunken character, that occasionally staggers. (Whenever the play veers off in a new direction, there’s a whole lot of shaking going on.) Chris McVicker’s graffiti-splattered set evokes the streets of the nameless burg: urban fragments without context, reflecting a drunken disorientation. Becki Leigh’s costumes have the Technicolor punch of drunken perception. It’s how the characters think they look, not their dull, sober reality.
The playwright combines hilarious dialog with off-kilter scene construction. There’s no big message, revelation, or dramatic conclusion in the drink mix. Boy gets boy. The other boy doesn’t get the girl, although the possibility remains open. That’s pretty much it, but it’ll make you laugh.
Even fictional drunks grow tiresome after awhile. Bock wisely ends his one-act play while they’re still funny.
It’s a soap bubble of a play—a screwball romantic comedy for the 21st century. Expect to laugh and put your mind on hold.
Intoxicating comedy tonight.
Save the hangover of serious analysis until morning.
IF YOU GO
“The Drunken City” runs through March 12, at the FSU Center for the Performing Arts, 5555 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. Call 351-8000 or visit asolorep.org/conservatory for more information.
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