Theater Review: The Drunken City is a disappointing bender

n’t that it poured out of someone’s printer, but that Gorilla – or any theater – chose to produce it. There must be a thousand better scripts out there, in New York and the regional theaters, waiting for the attention of artistic directors eager to please hungry audiences. But somehow we got The Drunken City, a 90-minute wasteland that makes network television look Einsteinian, and Sex and the City like quantum physics. After eleven years of reviewing theater, I can only think of one or two other plays with less to offer.

The plot: three friends, Linda, Melissa and Marnie, are out in New York City celebrating Marnie’s engagement. They meet three men, Eddie, Frank and Bob. Frank and Marnie hit it off, and he helps her question her resolve to get married. Bob and Eddie hit it off, and awkwardly dance around their attraction. Marnie decides; so do Bob and Eddie. Then the play is over.

Now this could be the plot of a wonderful comedy. It’s more than enough on which to hang brilliant dialogue, resonant soul-searching, incisive satire about the exotic mating rituals of young Americans. Just imagine what Paul Rudnick or Suzan Lori-Parks would do with this opportunity.

Well, forget it. Don’t break your heart waiting. Bock seems to have no ideas about the subjects he introduces, and his dialogue is so simplistic, it makes his characters seem dopes. In 90 minutes of theater, there’s hardly a single original thought or memorable phrase.

And impassioned acting and fine direction can’t turn this into a silk purse. As the three woman friends, Betty-Jane Parks (Linda), Jannette Serckpor (Melissa) and Jaime Giangrande-Holcom (Marnie) do their utmost to make The Drunken City stageworthy, as do Curtis Belz (Frank), Patrick Bolger (Eddie) and Kyle Porter (Bob). Karla Hartley directs, and if anyone could save this show, it would be this gifted stage artist. She can’t. Scott Cooper’s minimalist set – a metallic wall with two windows in it – could support a splendid narrative (not this one), and the see-sawing floor must have seemed like an inspiration (it gets old fast). A play like this gives even drinking a bad name. So much for poètes maudits and their absinthe-inspired rhapsodies. More shows like this and we’ll be clamoring for Prohibition.

(One counter-note: the character Linda does have a few haunting, short monologues about the City being a dangerous monster. At these moments, it appears that author Bock can really write. But add them all up and there’s probably less than two minutes worth. That leaves eighty-eight minutes of pablum.)

Fortunately, Drunken City isn’t part of a trend: next in line at the Gorilla is Jean Anouilh’s beautiful, intelligent Joan of Arc play, The Lark. How that show and this one ended up in the same season is one of those mysteries we must live with as we make our way on this mysterious earth. Of course, I can’t guess what quality of production it will receive, but, as a fan of the text, I can already tell you this: it’ll outplay this clunker by miles. It’ll stimulate emotions this one doesn’t touch. It’ll even give us something to think about.[dataBox]

The Drunken City is certainly the worst play so far of the 2009-2010 season.

If we’re lucky, it’s all smooth sailing from here.

There are smart drunks and stupid drunks. Smart drunks are like the guys in Long Day’s Journey Into Night: the more they imbibe, the more articulate they become and the more honest about their lives. In a drunken state, Edmund Tyrone regales his father with his memories of a mystical experience on board ship, when he suddenly felt united with all of nature, with the wind itself. In a drunken state, Jamie Tyrone warns Edmund that as much as he loves his younger brother, he also wants to make sure the latter fails, so that his own botched life won’t feel so painful. And in a drunken stupor, James Tyrone Sr. admits that he threw away his rare talent as a Shakespearean actor in favor of playing repeatedly in a cheap melodrama because the money was so good and easy to come by. Each one of these confessions is surrounded by meaningful, provocative dialogue, and Mary Tyrone’s morphine-induced reverie at the end of the play is just icing on the cake: for these characters (and writer Eugene O’Neill), intoxication equals truth.

Smart drunks make good drama.

And then there’s the other type – the young women and men of Adam Bock’s The Drunken City, the exasperating, low-IQ excuse for a play currently showing at Gorilla Theatre. These are stupid drunks: the alcohol has washed out their memory of any vaguely interesting experiences, they repeat themselves endlessly, they take an hour to realize what the audience noticed after two minutes, and at their best they just express platitudes so already-obvious to any thinking human, it’s a wonder they’re old enough to have drivers licenses, much less jobs. Yes, these mindless simps are supposed to be twentysomething, but watching them is more like overhearing nine-year-olds discuss Proust: they haven’t read it, they wouldn’t understand it, and in any case, they don’t have much access to discursive language. What’s astonishing about this play is

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