Saturday, April 5, 2008

2 Weeks, 2 Adam Bock Plays

My blogging has been light here as of late, because I've been so busy with schoolwork and Dynamo. (Last week, while stage-managing and revising The Rose of Youth, I worked on Dynamo an average of 8 hours a day. Oof.) But I do want to write about the other show I saw when I was in New York--The Drunken City by Adam Bock.

Various states of inebriation. Photo by Joan Marcus from

Admittedly, after the 3.5-hour grandeur of August: Osage County, an 80-minute romantic comedy like The Drunken City would have to be really spectacular for it not to seem like a letdown. And even if I hadn't seen August the night before, I'd probably still have considered The Drunken City an intermittently amusing trifle. It's about three bachelorettes who, in the fog of drunkenness, nevertheless discover new insights into themselves--especially when one is tempted by a handsome stranger, Frank. The play is neither as rollickingly funny or as deeply insightful as it wants to be.

There are only a few unpredictable things about The Drunken City: first, its three heroines are suburbanites, not the Carrie Bradshaw types I was expecting. Cassie Beck, playing Marnie, especially reminded me of an ultra-suburban, wholesome blonde girl who I met last summer, and I enjoyed that I could "recognize" this character. Marnie ends up as the protagonist, which is the other surprising thing: at first, I thought that Melissa (Maria Dizzia) would be the main character. She seems like the ringleader of the three women, the most put-together and sensible, and she is facing a big emotional issue: as Marnie and Linda prepare to get married, Melissa has just broken off her own engagement. But by the end of the play, Melissa turns completely unsympathetic and judgmental, and her story is not resolved in any satisfactory way.

I admire the production's commitment to multi-racial casting (Linda was Asian, Frank was black, and Bob was Latino), but I thought Linda's role, played by Sue Jean Kim, awfully stereotyped. She is pure comic relief--the petite Asian girl who can't hold her liquor and talks in goofy non-sequiturs, and in her few lucid moments, compares the city to a "sleeping dragon"--which seems like an Orientalist cliché.

I'm a bit surprised that the play just got a Lortel nomination for costume design, though it was pretty hilarious to have Melissa wear a whistle shaped like a penis. Note to the costume team: please launder Eddie's (Barrett Foa) shirt after every performance. It's already very predictable that he will end up in a clinch with Bob (Alfredo Narciso), a flour-dusted baker, and being able to see last night's flour smudges on Eddie's shirt just increases the predictability.

About a week after seeing The Drunken City, I got a chance to see another Bock play, The Typographer's Dream, presented by a Vassar student-theater organization. (Our school newspaper wrote an article about it but referred to the playwright as "Adam Block" throughout. Argh.) This play involves a perky geographer, a shy stenographer, and a distraught typographer talking about the pros and cons of their jobs. I really did like the choice to stage it in a classroom so that it felt like "an event that Vassar...might put together, inviting people to come talk to students about their jobs," as the director said in the newspaper article. The actors were all good, especially in dealing with Bock's language, although I thought it could have been more clear from the get-go that the three characters are all friends in real life, and didn't just meet at the career panel. Not sure whether this was the fault of the actors or the script.

I think I ended up liking The Typographer's Dream better than The Drunken City, and I'm not sure whether that's because it's actually a better play, or just a function of the circumstances in which I saw the two productions. Well, Typographer felt less clichéd because there aren't actually a lot of plays about people's relationship to their jobs, compared to the vast amount of romantic comedies (like The Drunken City). But also, there's something more appealing about seeing a modestly scaled dramatic work put on by a bunch of college kids, rather than at an important New York nonprofit theater. Would I have been more annoyed with Typographer if I had seen it at Playwrights Horizons? Would I have been more forgiving of Drunken if I'd seen it at Vassar with some of my friends in the cast?

I am grateful to my 4 years at Vassar for exposing me to all different kinds of theater via student and departmental productions, but wonder what it's going to be like when I graduate (in seven weeks!). As a playwright, I'll still need to see all kinds of plays, but I'll feel resentful if I spend my money on something that turns out to be lightweight or trivial.

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