Spill the Wine
nytheatre.com review by Micah Bucey
May 28, 2008
Playwright-performer Bryan Dykstra often has an axe to grind. His past solo performances have poked fun at such hot conservative targets as the religious right and Rush Limbaugh. He's taken an offstage role for this year's GayFestNYC, but the fact that he doesn't appear in this finely honed production of his new play Spill the Wine doesn't mean that he hasn't injected its characters with his own unique brand of question-raising and finger-pointing. What results from his collaboration with director Margarett Perry is a sharp, hilarious, and heartfelt work that offers a new take on the age-old mysteries of love and loss.
At first, the story seems simple: Emma and Page are a heterosexual married couple. Emma leaves Page to begin a homosexual relationship with Colleen. Page wants Emma back. Colleen wants Page to get over it. Emma wants everyone to be happy. If this plot sounds too familiar, don't be fooled. Soon, two other characters appear, one of whom will completely change the course of the play in two effective and uncomfortable scenes. To divulge more of the plot would do a supreme disservice to potential audience members, but be assured that there are enough twisty surprises to make the brisk two hours well worth the trip. Suffice to say that Dykstra has more on his mind than simple relationship problems, hetero- or homosexual, and that Emma's reasons for leaving Page and partnering with Colleen reveal themselves to be somewhat questionable.
A well-plotted issue play can be an entertaining and thought-provoking evening, but what elevates Spill the Wine to more than mystery-of-the-week status is Dykstra's unabashed adoration of language and its infinite uses. The words that spring from his characters' mouths bite, bark, stab, comfort, punish, console, cuddle, and entertain, often switching permutations within a matter of seconds. And although most of the dialogue is laden with quotable one-liners, it is when he lets his characters breathe into minutes-long monologues that Dykstra truly revels in his talent as a wordsmith. Two particularly choice moments are awarded to Colleen, who starts the evening off with a gunshot of a rant, played as one side of a telephone conversation with an unseen ex, and to Page, whose guilt-ridden lament about his feelings toward women stuns his scene partners and the audience into a submissive silence.
Dykstra has been blessed with a capable and intuitive director in Perry, who has shaped his story into a lean character-driven vehicle for their three main actors. Deborah Knox's Emma is delicately quirky and charming, January LaVoy's Colleen is brazen and uncompromising, and Chris Kipiniak's Page is damaged and dangerous. Each is given the chance to showcase a remarkable range of vulnerability and anger. In supporting roles, Michael Huston is appropriately awkward and driven, and Jennifer Merrill offers the single most hilarious moment in a production chockfull of belly laughs.
Dykstra's characters would still spring to life on a bare stage, but the fact that David Toser's costumes, Graham T. Posner's lighting, and especially Michael Hotopp's set create the perfect world for them to inhabit, is an added delight. Hotopp's impressive design allows the playing space to spin, becoming two different apartments, a city street, and a lesbian bar.
That Spill the Wine doesn't truly gel enough at its end to provide a satisfying conclusion seems a petty complaint for such a smart and thoughtful piece. That I can only praise in generalizations for fear of ruining any of Dykstra's sharp, witty observations should be enough to make up for any sloppiness in the climax or denouement. I can't think of a playwright in New York who is having more fun with words at this moment than Dykstra. With its unflinching take on the decisions that make us and those around us who we are, this Sapphic entry in this male-heavy festival is an unlikely but welcome triumph.