The Drunken City
nytheatre.com review by Loren Noveck
April 28, 2011
Adam Bock’s The Drunken City is a sweet, if ultimately a little facile, comedy about friendship, love, honesty, and the dangers of the big city. When it opens, Marnie, Linda, and Melissa are all engaged, all a little giddy about it, and out for a Big Night on the Town, which has been slightly derailed by the departure of their fourth and fifth friends (whom we never see), one of whom has left to take care of her kids and the other of whom has broken her foot.
But by the time the main action begins a few weeks later, at Marnie’s bachelorette party, Melissa and her fiancé have parted ways, and Melissa is none too happy about it. So when, late in the night and considerably drunk, they meet two cute guys, Eddie and Frank, and when it further transpires that Eddie—also considerably drunk—has spent the entire night trying to shake Frank out of post-breakup doldrums and encouraging him to flirt with women, Melissa couldn’t be happier. Until Frank and Marnie start kissing.
Slapstick and mayhem ensue, with Melissa and Linda chasing around after Frank and Marnie to ensure nothing threatens Marnie’s impending wedding to Gary, with Eddie dragged unwillingly into the fray, and finally with bringing in the big guns: Melissa and Marnie’s friend and boss Bob, who is annoyed that he wasn’t invited to the bachelorette party, but who they think can somehow steer Marnie back to the right path.
Meanwhile, the night’s events are raising deeper issues for all of them. Marnie is starting to think about why she’s kissing a stranger immediately before her wedding, and why she’s getting married in the first place, and what she really wants out of her life, her career, her friendships, and her romantic relationships. Bob is looking back at his own series of ex-boyfriends and wondering whether he ever knew anything about love, or ever will. Linda is worrying that she drinks too much. Frank is falling for Marnie, even though she is about to marry someone else. Melissa is feeling lonely and vulnerable. And Eddie just kind of wants to see everything work out okay for everyone, including himself.
By morning, decisions will be made, lives will be set in new directions, and the paths—romantic and otherwise—that some of the characters start to perceive will not be the ones predicted by the night before. It’s a sweet play, at times very funny and at times genuinely touching. The goofy drunken behavior can start to get a little wearing as the main source of comedy, but it’s all done in a heartfelt, sincere way that keeps it from going completely over the top. The piece’s emotional revelations are truthful to the kind of insights its twenty-something characters would be likely to have about themselves while drunk and/or in the immediate aftermath of being very drunk, which is also to say that those insights, and the character developments, are earned and sometimes moving, but not terribly surprising.
But where the piece really stands out—especially, as in this presentation, when done as a stripped-down production in a tiny space, with only a single platform for a set and colorful costumes—is as a showcase for a group of young actors, as it features six solid comic roles. While I felt that the overall timing and connectedness among the ensemble could have been tighter—the levels of relationship among Melissa, Marnie, Linda, and Bob didn’t always feel solid to me—the performances as a whole are enjoyable and spirited. The two standouts are Michael Gene Conti as Eddie and Shelley Little as Linda. Of course, these two also get to play the silliest, drunkest characters, so they’ve got a lot of fun material to work with. But Conti’s watchfulness and reactivity to other characters, and Little’s portrayal of fragility under the gaiety, added layers of richness to their characters.