The Bottom of the Glass: A Peculiar Vice was written, via Google Wave, by a committee of artists — as many as 18, according to the program. If their handiwork is to be believed, life is a cheat and a bust, and then you die.
Yes, there's angst aplenty in this story of the owner and denizens of a downscale bar in an unnamed town. Bartender Ami (Ami Sallee Corley) puts on a bold face as she deals with the possible foreclosure of her establishment, drummer/drug dealer Carter (the excellent Nic Carter) becomes increasingly desperate as he runs out of money and confronts the peril of prison time, and bar help Emily (the persuasively wistful Emily Belvo) has to remember to keep her chin up as she endures unrequited love and then the evasions of a man who won't commit. Then there's "peanut girl" Gia (Gi Young Sung), who spends most of the play in a super-blue funk, from which she emerges only to tell the tale of the abused greyhound she murdered out of contempt for its misplaced loyalty. If the characters in this dramatic downer aren't in or contending with depression, they're causing it by their promiscuous sex (balladeer Jonathan Cho) or mean-spirited materialism (agent Joanna Sycz).
Of course, the problem with this is that we've seen it all before (c.f. Three Sisters, Waiting for Godot, Hurlyburly. et al). Not that another play on The Emptiness of It All can't be entertaining or even enlightening. But we wait vainly through the long two hours and 20 minutes of Glass for a patch of insight or a moment of authentic humor. We are seldom rewarded. Finally, The Bottom of the Glass is a tedious exercise in twentysomething Weltschmerz, and takes an obscenely long time to tell us what we've been hearing from the time we were old enough to read Bret Easton Ellis (or maybe J. D. Salinger). Adult Life Sucks. Relationships Suck. Hell is Other People. The Iceman Cometh. It's a Perfect Day for Bananafish.
There are several plotlines. Bar owner Ami is a tough lady with a heart of gold who finds that her bar is being audited by Bob, a bank employee with — well, a heart of gold. He discovers more and more reasons why the bank should foreclose on her, and we have to wonder: will she keep her Cherry Orchard, I mean bar, or will she lose it, along with its fascinating habitues? Then there's rock singer Jon and his drummer Carter. Their duo is being observed by slick agent Joanna (a cynical agent!), who just may be willing to sign one of them to a contract. Will success go to Jon's head, and will Carter, once cut loose, ever find the money to pay his enormous debts? Add bouncer Kyle (the talented Kyle Porter), who stands up for Ami when Carter is about to rip off her cashbox, and don't forget sulking Gia, who doesn't do much besides look sad and get drunk.
Actually, there's real skill in the way all their stories are interwoven — think of Robert Altman films like Nashville or Short Cuts — and several of the segments are introduced by a bit of film showing, among other things, a man cutting his own torso with a razor (strangely, this was the most honest event in the whole evening). And even if the writing is derivative, some of it packs real punch — as in Gia's story about the brutalized dog (echoes of Albee's Zoo Story and Neil LaBute's bash).
The other major success of the evening is the songwriting of Jonathan Cho, whose melodies and lyrics are original and surprising. The ensemble-created set could genuinely be a low-rent bar on the wrong side of the tracks, and the ensemble-created costumes are just fine. I'm glad to see that once again some clever artists have found ways to make the small Silver Meteor space a credible place for drama.
Still, The Bottom of the Glass comes a few decades too late. I think the idea of writing a play by committee, and using the latest technology to do so, is genuinely bold — how to find a unifying vision? — but this exemplar is just too hackneyed to be valuable. Maybe that's the problem with groupwrite: it tends toward the lowest common denominator rather than the highest individual invention. Or maybe that's just this play, and others will delight.
In any case, the present exercise by "The Creative Collective of All Out Rep" is tiresome. I recommend it only to the very patient and forgiving.