The Drunken City
When bachelorettes get real
|Steppenwolf Theatre Next Up presents|
|The Drunken City|
Review by Lauren Whalen
You know them: the girls who stumble down city streets, screeching – sometimes in joy, others in anger. They rejoice and squabble, often in the same clumsily-formed sentence. More often than not, one of them is wearing a veil, a tiara and/or a phallus. If you’re like me, you often roll your eyes, and jam in your earbuds. But what happens when you take a closer look? The Drunken City answers that question: a lot. John Michael DiResta’s spot-on production of Adam Bock’s 2008 play is surprisingly intelligent and sad, while maintaining a tongue-in-cheek brilliance – an apt addition to Steppenwolf’s annual Next Up series for emerging artists.
A giggling trio clatter into the space, proudly flashing their engagement rings, pictures of their preppy fiancés and tales of an inebriated evening in an unnamed city. Three weeks later, they’re back to celebrate lucky bachelorette Marnie (Darci Nalepa) – but just underneath the giggles, the mood’s more somber. Divinity student Linda (Emjoy Gavino) has crossed the line from happy tipsiness to full-on blotto, and bossy Melissa (Audrey Francis) isn’t wearing her ring anymore. When the women meet lovelorn banker Frank (Brian King) and his wingman Eddie (Andrew Goetten), the night takes a turn for the existential.
Playwright Bock has his finger on the pulse of this type of woman: young but not ridiculously so, professional but not fully career-focused, in search of a better-looking-than-average Joe to make all her dreams come true. According to the program, director DiResta expressed distaste for screaming drunk women. Bock’s reply – “you wouldn’t hate them if they were your best friend” – speaks volumes and shines through every moment of The Drunken City, from the shockingly precise portrayal of inebriation to the clumsy attempts at figuring out a relationship without the other person present. Bock’s stellar characterization and DiResta’s thoughtful staging go hand in hand, creating a world that’s at once terribly intimate and widely universal. Stephanie Cluggish’s simple costume design, Yu Shibagaki’s concrete slab-based set and Rebecca Barrett’s glass bulbs of light evoke the urban jungle through the eyes of suburbanites: terrifying in its limitlessness. One early sequence goes on a bit too long, and there’s a musical number that’s completely out of place, but small hiccups aside, the production’s nearly flawless.
Each actor brings his or her character to quirky life, playing up and eschewing stereotype in equal measure. King’s stammering nice guy is admirably sweet, kicked down by love yet willing to give it another go with a doubting bachelorette. Goetten (who resembles a young Ryan Phillippe) is an affable smart-aleck who tap dances like a pro, and his scenes with Sean Parris’ Bob (a gay friend who’s not a lisping queen but a real person) are warm and charming. Francis is an utterly convincing Type A whose world has just fallen apart and thus is determined to keep her friend’s upcoming nuptials perfect, at any cost. Nalepa’s Marnie makes a believable and compelling journey from giddy girl to questioning adult, and even at her character’s silliest, Gavino is the embodiment of vivacity and delight.
A few months ago, I reviewed Polarity Ensemble Theatre’s Never the Bridesmaid and unwittingly generated controversy. I didn’t like the play, despite being the same age and stage in the life as the protagonist – perhaps because of it. I’m roughly the same age as the brides-to-be in The Drunken City, and I both could and couldn’t relate to their woes. Yet where Never the Bridesmaid alienated me with cheap shots and clumsy structure, The Drunken City pulled me in with authentic characters, savvy humor and painful realism. At one point, I almost rose from my seat and crossed six feet to where Nalepa was slumped over, so I could hug her and tell her everything would be all right. I restrained myself, but just barely.
The Drunken City continues through June 15th at Steppenwolf Garage, 1624 N. Halsted (map), presented in repertory with Next Up shows “Fat Pig” and “The Internationalist”. Tickets are $20, and are available by phone (312-355-1650) or online through their website (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at Steppenwolf.org. (Running time: 1 hour 35 minutes, no intermission)
Photos by Michael Brosilow
Audrey Francis (Melissa), Emjoy Gavino (Linda), Andrew Goetten (Eddie), Brian King (Frank), Darci Nalepa (Marnie, u/s Melissa, u/s Linda), Sean Parris (Bob)
behind the scenes
John Michael DiResta (director), Yu Shibagaki (scenic design), Stephanie Cluggish (costume design), Rebecca Barrett (lighting design), Kevin O’Donnell (sound design), Frankie DiCiaccio (choreographer), Erica Daniels (casting), Jonathan Nook (stage manager), Mary Hungerford (asst. stage manager), Ned Baker (asst. director), Kelly Cook (run crew chief), John Holt, Eric Vigo (run crew), Claudette Perez (sound board operator), Carlene Descalo (wardrobe run crew), Megan Snowder (master electrician), Michael Brosilow (photos).