ROOM TO SWING AN AXE
nytheatre.com review by Chris Toland
Ask any rational person if they’d
prefer to be an alcoholic or not be one, and the latter choice seems
obvious. Why, then, are so many of us compelled to stay out too late,
have one too many, put the lampshade on our head? It’s because before it
turns ugly, it’s undeniably glamorous. If you’d like a peek into this
world while sparing your liver, head over to see Alex Dawson’s Room to
Swing an Axe. But be warned. It’s gonna get ugly.
August 15, 2002
The play explores the friendship, if you can call it that, of Jack, a hard drinking, self-proclaimed writer, and Gaz, the suburban salesman who has latched onto him. Through alternating monologues, the two men give us their takes on themselves, each other, and what has brought and kept them together. More than their common love of booze has united this duo. Jack represents all that is cool and glamorous about drunks. As portrayed by Joseph Pacillo, he exudes self confidence and rough-around-the-edges sex appeal. He knows everyone. He tells the great stories. He is calm and focused, never slurring a word or losing his train of thought. To watch him take a drag from a cigarette or a pull from his whiskey bottle is to be twelve again, wishing you could do all the cool grownup stuff you saw in the movies.
Gaz, played by Craig McNulty (with one of the most convincing states of progressing inebriation I have ever seen), is, simply, not Jack.
Gaz’s obsession with Jack in many ways seems like latent homosexual desire, a fact he freely acknowledges, describing their frequent matches of "grab ass." Too bad it’s not that simple. You see, Gaz doesn’t want to bed Jack, he wants to be him. He analyzes and describes Jack’s every word and move, with alternating admiration and disdain. When Gaz points out that Jack likes nothing better than to be called a cad or a scoundrel, yet takes offense when accused of having a scoundrel’s actual qualities, we see this idiosyncrasy in Gaz himself. He’s as big a drunk as Jack, but with none of the coolness, and he hates himself, and Jack, because of it.
Dawson has clearly spent a fair amount of time in barrooms observing the behavior of the drinker. His dialogue is dead on. His direction of the piece succeeds in creating a mood of haunting emptiness. McNulty and Pacillo deliver rich and captivating performances. Room to Swing an Axe is terrific. Don’t miss the last call on this one.