Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Go Back to New Jersey!

Theater review - off-Broadway
The Drunken City
By Adam Bock
Directed by Trip Cullman
Starring Cassie Beck, Mike Colter, Maria Dizzia, Barrett Foa, Sue Jean Kim, Alfredo Narciso

Performances from March 13 through April 20, 2008
Playwrights Horizons
416 West 42nd Street

Kim, Dizzia and Beck
(photo: Joan Marcus)
Adam Bock's new play, The Drunken City, is not so much a shaggy-dog story as it is a shaggy hair-of-the-dog story. In it, three young women go to the big city to celebrate the fact that one of them has become engaged. They have too much to drink, and the bride-to-be, Marnie, falls for Frank, a handsome stranger who has gone out clubbing with his gay friend, Eddie, in an attempt to forget the girlfriend who dumped him.

Marnie’s pals Melissa and Linda are understandably skeptical of this guy, even though -- as we discover -- they all hail from the same small town, where Frank works in a bank, Eddie is a dentist and the gals work in a bakery run by Bob, who shows up to help bring Marnie to her senses. (I’m not ruining anything by noting that the dentist and the baker hit it off.)

In other hands, such a flimsy conceit might be spun into 80 minutes of amusement, showing the irrationality of people's behavior while under the influence of two ubiquitous drugs: alcohol and lust. But Bock never even reaches that low bar. Content to simply set up his situation, he lets his inarticulate and unappealing characters take over as if they were in a bad television sitcom (if that isn’t redundant).

What’s mainly missing here is the sinister undercurrent that gave Bock's The Receptionist its slight kick. Bock's bittersweet point seems to be that revelations made while one is drunk or in the heat of passion are perhaps for the best, whether or not they destroy long-time friendships. But he is unable to go much beyond the clich├ęd notion that alcohol brings out the truth in everyone.

Trip Cullman has staged this thin fantasia in surrealist mode: A stone slab at center stage shifts to and fro, tossing the actors about whenever Marnie and Frank kiss. This is a tired literalization of two old tropes, “the earth moves” and “you’re on shaky ground.”

In a cast of tipsy revelers, only the engaging Maria Dizzia (Melissa) and the charming Mike Colter (Frank) act like people you might want to hang out with. The rest are unable to transcend the caricatures that Bock has written, so there's little reason to visit The Drunken City.

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