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.
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.