The Drunken City at Rice University: An Amusing Romp

The setup:

Three gals and three guys, all late twenties, meet by chance on the streets of New York in the wee hours of the morning after a night of drinking, and seek to negotiate the shoals of relationships, some ending and some beginning.

The execution:

Playwright Adam Bock must have a major set of cojones even to consider putting three tipsy ladies onstage -- while a drunken man may be amusing, there is a totally unfair double standard. As director Justin Doran writes in the program notes: "These girls are the ones I never want to be seated next to at the restaurant." Yet they are interesting, and certainly varied.

Melissa is bossy and judgmental, and Avery K. Twitchell-Heyne brings her to life. Linda (Faith Shapiro) is more easygoing and perhaps enjoys her drinks a little too much -- she is engaged to the unseen Jack. And that gal in the skin-tight white mini-dress, wearing a tiara, is Marnie (Elena White), celebrating her bachelorette party prior to marrying Gary, about whom she is having serious second thoughts.

Enter Eddie (Aaron Tallman), an enthusiastic youth who's had a few (four shots, two beers and a few margaritas), but he can still do a mean tap dance and cartwheel, and Tallman has an inner charm that very quickly bubbles to the surface. He is soon joined by his buddy Frank (Nicholas Riggall), tall, handsome and carrying a torch for his ex, Jessica. He and Marnie develop an instant rapport, fortunately. I say fortunately, as it not only spawns the thin plot, but provides a wonderful effect -- when they kiss, the City tilts, and scenic and projection designer Matthew Schlief is to be commended for helping to make this not only possible but delightful. And, like all good running gags, it builds to an hilarious payoff.

Frank is a banker, Eddie a dentist and the three girls work at the Sunshine Bakery, owned by Bob (Matt Banks), who enters midway in the comedy. There is a brief prologue in which the ladies show off their engagement rings, and a longer epilogue in which some issues are resolved and hangovers nursed, but the main event is the chance meeting in the deserted streets of Manhattan in the wee hours of the morning.

This is a slice-of-life of the young and hopeful, and while I did wonder why I should care about them, I quickly censored the thought to return to the antics onstage. There is considerable charm in the work, a few perceptions that rise to the level of insights, and playwright Bock has given us authenticity and humor. That's to be admired.

The weakest moments are mercifully brief, when a spotlight centers on a character and nothing of moment emerges, or when Marnie has a moment alone onstage while waiting for Frank to return. Here's an opportunity for riveting inner thoughts, or adroit pantomime, or a subtle bit of stage business, but, alas, we wait, and...nothing.

The play runs a bit less than 90 minutes, with no intermission, and ends with a prolonged and endearing curtain call, and we are glad we have met these characters trying to find their way in life. Doran and assistant director Aaron Garrett have turned a highly contemporary script into an interesting comedic romp, and done justice to a courageous playwright.

The verdict:

A lighthearted look at the young and their search for a satisfying relationship combines some wonderful special effects, solid acting, and excellent direction to create an amusing romp of a comedy.

The Drunken City continues through February 11 at Hamman Hall at Rice University, 6100 Main, Rice Blvd., entrance 20 & 21. For tickets or information, call 713-348-7529 or e-mail [email protected]

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Jim Tommaney