I've Been Drunk for Three Weeks and I Have a Gun
nytheatre.com review by Anthony C.E. Nelson
October 13, 2007
I've Been Drunk for Three Weeks and I Have a Gun takes some getting used to, as a state of being I suppose, but most certainly as Jim Farmer's play, currently running at Altered Stages. Farmer has written a modern noir that sails from hilariously quirky to painfully earnest with the speed of an Elmore Leonard novel, and if it doesn't all tie up neatly in the end it's still an enjoyable ride.
A girl named Lenore is introduced to us in a monologue a small-town dreamer, a girl who flounced her way through community theatre acting classes until she met a boy with soul. Knowing him helped make her acting great, but it also drove her to want more, so off she goes into the great gaping maw of Los Angeles. She's there for a bit when she sends back to Florida for him, only to be doped, kidnapped, and pressed into the service as the assistant/forced girlfriend of psychotic drug dealer Rawlin on the night her boy is due to arrive.
So does Dick Cummings arrive in the City of Angels—after surviving an attack from a hit man on the train over, of course—friendless and unable to find Lenore. He begins an odyssey of transformation that sees him become simultaneously a favorite of the local police department who is recruited into being a Private Investigator, and a well-known dealer of marijuana and pills. On the trail of Lenore, Dick tangles with some well known noir archetypes: Kansas, the hooker with the heart of gold; Claire, the aging femme fatale with addictions to spare and an agenda of her own; tough detectives; and bizarre hotel clerks.
His main battle to win is against the psychotic Rawlin, whom he chases through an intricate series of plot twists, including the back-and-forth kidnapping of both Lenore and Kansas, with whom Dick has started an affair. Unfortunately, towards the end the white-knuckle plot twists take a backseat to examining the characters' motivations, and what had been a topsy-turvy thriller loses momentum. Another huge problem is with the stage combat, particularly the gun violence, which is poorly done and throws the audience out of what's happening. Most egregious is a moment when a standoff between two characters who both have pistols on each other is resolved by one simply shooting the other (the gunshot sound piped through the speakers) and running out of the room, followed by the other character announcing, "Thank God for bulletproof vests!" when he clearly is not wearing one, like a child on a playground popping up and saying, "You missed me!" These few amateurish moments do a lot to damage what is otherwise a fine production, and should be addressed as soon as possible, because with some fine-tuning Jim Farmer could have a real winner on his hands here.
The cast is quite good, particularly Peter Stoll as the psychotic Rawlin, who is mesmerizing in describing one of the most grotesque acts of violence I have ever heard referenced on stage. Also exceptional are Leslie Lyles as the hilariously out-of-it Claire Puchavadulas, and Jon Levenson in multiple roles. Alex Hurt as Dick Cummings gets better the more his character sinks into the noir detective archetype. Samantha Buck as Lenore is flat and is the one cast-member who doesn't seem fully committed to the goings-on. Victoria Imperioli's changeable set gave a huge boost to the play's verisimilitude.
Writer-director Jim Farmer has a great sense for a pun and knows how to spin a poetic phrase, but I think he needs to focus a little bit more on tightening his plot and a little less on his characters' feelings in order to have a totally satisfying evening with this play.