Drunk Enough to Say I Love You
nytheatre.com review by Stan Richardson
March 15, 2008
It is tender, intimate to see Sam and Guy sitting on a couch, knees almost touching, conversing in the tacit-tongued fragments of the mutually smitten:
GUY: never see you again and I was fine with that, I thought one night and I'll love him till I die but that's ok, I can live
SAM: you know something?
GUY: and then I'm here and suddenly here you are and here we are again and
SAM: because I'm leaving tomorrow so
GUY: sorry of course but just as well because
SAM: and you could come with me if you
But what Sam (speaking with an American accent and identified by playwright Caryl Churchill as "a country") is proposing point-blank to the ensorcelled Guy (speaking with a British accent and identified simply as "a man") may be more than just a whirlwind romance:
GUY: go where did you say you?
SAM: anywhere you wouldn't?
GUY: do when we get there?
SAM: things you won't do?
Churchill's latest play, Drunk Enough To Say I Love You?, now playing at the Public Theatre, is a stunning and stirring agitprop about the submissive relationship that Britain has with the United States, allegorized as a co-dependent gay relationship. I hesitate to use the negatively-connoted term "agitprop," but I mean it in the purest sense: the stirring of powerful emotion while disseminating important ideas. Churchill does not shy away from her view of America as using every manipulative and abusive tactic to get what it wants—what Sam calls "love," and might otherwise be called uncontested world domination.
Drunk Enough, perhaps more than any of her other powerfully politically charged plays, is a warning. It is critical that she refers to Sam as "a country," bringing to mind that benign larger-than-life persona, Uncle Sam—an anthropomorphization meant to be not as domineering and intimidating as a father; fun, chummy, but still knowing best. Churchill means something larger than any one man or administration, but rather our national character: our traits more than our states.
This does bring up an interesting conundrum for the actor playing Sam, which is precisely where I had trouble in James MacDonald's mostly excellent production. Guy has the abandonment of his wife, his kids, his job, his country (?) to think about; Sam is basically a sociopath with only coercion on his mind. So it is not surprising that the more nuanced and sensitive performance is Samuel West's Guy, a perfect mix of intoxication and dread, while Scott Cohen's Sam is all bug-eyed ambition with the thinnest veneer of charm. Cohen is chilly from the get-go, which, for this viewer, undermines the supposed rapture; all of the romance comes from West, and Cohen's sexually sterile affection is perfunctory at best. Is this intentional? Shouldn't the aim be to have us—however briefly—fall under Sam's spell, too?
Though more than a quibble, this should not deter you from seeing one of the most intimate theatrical spectacles currently on offer. The set itself (by Eugene Lee) is a tour-de-force: a couch that leaves the ground in tandem with the characters' literal and figurative feet, surrounded by impenetrable blackness, boxed in by an elegant frame of blinding, twinkling light bulbs (the exquisite lighting—and shadowing—is by Peter Mumford). Sam and Guy pull coffee cups, lit cigarettes, and the like out of the darkness, consume them and then let them fall into the silent abyss at their side. This last aspect may be MacDonald's most brilliant gestural evocation of our national character: exactly how much of just what is being dropped in our name into the world, without consequence, without even a sound?