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Theater Review (NYC): ‘The Drunken City’ by Adam Bock

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I like when a production company’s mission statement says something specific, instead of sticking to the typical vague platitudes that could describe any theatrical endeavor. In the case of Tongue in Cheek Theater Productions, the aim is to be funny.

OK, so they indulge in terms like “universal truths” and “resonate” and so forth…but their purpose—to “make our audiences laugh”—stands out amid the blahs. And for that purpose, their choice of this Adam Bock comedy (which ran at Playwrights Horizons in 2008) is a fine one.

Jake Lipman, Shana Wiersum, Shelley Little in Tongue in Cheek Theater's production of "The Drunken City." Photo by Justin Boykin

Jake Lipman, Shana Wiersum, Shelley Little in Tongue in Cheek Theater’s production of “The Drunken City.” Photo by Justin Boykin

Unlike Bock’s recent, more ambitious A Small Fire, which started out promisingly and then crashed and burned amid tendentiousness, The Drunken City is fun through and through. An ensemble piece about a group of 20-somethings staggering their inebriated way through the joys and pains of love’s labors gained and lost, it gradually zeroes in on Marnie (played sympathetically and surefootedly by Jake Lipman, the company’s Artistic Director).

Carousing with her friends after a bachelorette party celebrating her upcoming marriage to a man she’s not excited about, Marnie hooks up with Frank (the amusingly elastic A. J. Heekin), a lovelorn stranger out commiserating with his friend Eddie (Michael Gene Conti, a master of the silent reaction). The fallout from this dalliance includes a rift between old friends, a vow of sobriety, and the beginning of a promising if tentative love affair where we didn’t expect it. The excellent comic ensemble brings all this into fairly sharp focus with many a laugh and plenty of empathy.

Director Brock H. Hill describes his style as “minimalist” and that’s for sure—without scenery or props, save a low platform to sit on, a few beer bottles, and a donut, the comedy rides easily on the physicality of the cast, who, far from looking lost, seem to relish the chance to contain and express Bock’s somewhat chaotic story entirely in and via their bodies.

The structure is a little odd, mostly because of a prologue in which the three women exult (directly to the audience) in their engagements. Why two of these have been broken off by the next scene isn’t fully explained. Nevertheless the jolly flow runs nearly uninterrupted. The especially drunken segments of dialogue can get stuck like broken records; Bock’s sure feel for vernacular speech now and then zigzags a little too realistically. But that’s a small quibble about this stupid-clever romp, which seems to zoom by in no time, though it actually runs nearly 90 minutes without a break. Kudos to Ms. Lipman and Tongue in Cheek Theater for making manifest what’s funny, and what’s sneakily smart, in the blurry scrim of these six characters—lost but thoroughly recognizable—in search of too much to drink.

The Drunken City runs through May 7 at the Bridge Theatre at Shetler Studios, 244 W. 54 St., New York. For information visit Tongue in Cheek’s website.

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About Jon Sobel

Jon Sobel is an Executive Editor of Blogcritics as well as lead editor of the Culture & Society section. As a writer he contributes most often to Culture, where he reviews NYC theater; he also covers interesting music releases. He writes the blog Park Odyssey, for which he is visiting and blogging every park in New York City—over a thousand of them. Through Oren Hope Marketing and Copywriting you can hire him to write or edit whatever marketing or journalistic materials your heart desires. By night he's a working musician: lead singer, songwriter, and bass player for Whisperado, a member of other bands as well, and a sideman.
  • http://altruistictheatre.com BrockHHill

    This is Brock H. Hill, you wrote a very nice review of my show, The Drunken City and I wanted to invite you to my next production, Civilization!

    Here’s a bit about it: Two years ago, Robin – a mild-mannered civil servant – crash-landed on a desert island with five strangers. He wants to get them home to the world they left behind. They want to create a new world on the island, a better world. This is their story.

    If you would like to do us the pleasure of attending, let me know and I’ll get you a couple of tickets set aside. The show runs Jun 16th-19th and 23rd-26th in Manhattan. 43rd and 8th.

    For more info visit this link.

    [personal contact info deleted by comments editor]