Three actresses, swaying in their high heels, wove their way around The Cell Theatre's paired-down set on opening night of The Drunken City. These are exactly the kind of people you might see (and avoid) as they make a cackling stumble down Central around 2am on a Saturday night. As common as they might be on the stage of the world, what struck me first about The Duke City Repertory Theatre's production of the play by Adam Bock is that these aren't characters you usually see on the stage proper. And for that reason, I was immediately engaged—and the authentic wow-
“What would you say this play is about?” one of the actors—the charismatic Josh Heard, who plays the character of Bob—asked me after the show. The question gave me pause. In the broadest sense, this play is about love. But more than that, it is about self-determination, friendship, the complications of modern romance and the reluctance that comes with commitment. The three women—Marnie (Katie Becker Colón), Melissa ( Ashley Daniels) and Linda (Amelia Ampuero)—are all recently engaged. They head to the city (which city is never clear) from their home in the suburbs for Marnie's bachelorette party. Linda, my favorite drunken truth-teller, inauspiciously describes the city, a character in the play in its own right, as “a sleeping dragon or some dark creature in the night that cracks open an eye and whispers dark, dangerous dark ideas into your ear.” When the three women encounter the equally inebriated Frank and Eddie (played by Willis Miller and Frank Taylor Green) the plot really starts moving as Marnie and Frank share playful, drunken kisses that become the vehicle for a powerful realization.
Though the premise of the story here seems most like the trite fodder of a forgettable romantic comedy, Bock writes these characters with great tenderness, and the actors of Duke City Rep play them with sympathy for their utter confusion and, ultimately, their loneliness. The frightening speed with which people can change their mind (and have the right to, as the character of Frank iterates) seems to be reflected in the way the city tilts at major points of psychological drama. The shifting Earth under their feet is a symbol of the infirmity, the changeability of all things, especially young lovers.
In the wrecked morning after their drunken night in the city, the characters reconvene. It is a revelation to see them all subdued, not decked out in sparkly dresses and tiaras, no longer the spectacle they were after countless cocktails. As changeable as some things are, what's been done cannot be undone and the five grapple with the ramifications of what passed the night before.
Drunk people tell the truth, and as such, cutting through the messiness and heartache of The Drunken City, are very real observations about love and friendship, all told with great humor. See the product of love plus liquor Thursday through Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 2pm until May 29 at The Cell Theatre (700 First Street).