August 31, 2003

 

Drinking in America

reviewed by
Lynn Trenning

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For more about Lynn Trenning, please visit her main page.

aired on WFAE on September 4, 2003

For a society with historic Puritanical roots, Americans have taken to booze and drugs like worms to mud. Drinking in America, Eric Bogosianís one-man play performed by InnerVoices Theatre Company, chronicles the myriad of roles that drugs and alcohol play in the American psyche. Comprised of a series of cameo performances by Charlotte actor Carver Johns, the play is full of truth, but each skit runs too long by half, to maintain theatrical integrity.

In Drinking in America, drugs and alcohol are dual substances that define the people who use them. Veins of insight run through many of the characterizations. One is how easily people separate their own drinking and drug use from that by people they consider to have substance "problems." The other is how a personís class is delineated by his preferred drug type and alcohol brand.

A street guy drinks Thunderbird. A salesman at a conference slugs Andre champagne out of the bottle. A Hollywood producer type wakes up with his version of coffee and cream; a line of cocaine followed by a belt of Jim Beam. This same cokehead is perfectly comfortable demeaning an actor he knows who uses the hard stuff, you know, the junk that requires a needle.

Carver Johnsí face might be made of clay, it is so marvelously malleable. He captures anger, sullenness, passivity and arrogance as he moves from one character to the next. Johns opens the play as a character reminiscing about his adventures with LSD when he was a teenager. It serves as Bogosianís homage to experimentation with drugs, as one of the rights of passage of American youth. The LSD serves as both a metaphysical and literal eye-opener.

As a homeless man, Johns swigs cheap wine while dogging an off-stage couple who are out for a night on the town. He is passive aggressive as he baits them for change, mocks their apparent affluence, and brags about his own sexual prowess. He is both pitiful and arguably enviable, for apparently he needs nothing but the bottle to survive.

An impotent man defends himself to his wife by claiming to be the victim of a conspiracy of mediocrity. A drunken redneck salesman tries to prove what a man he is to a hired escort. "What makes me special is I care about people," he tells her in between tirades about his wifeís spending habits.

Johns talent is prominent in his version of a restaurateur named George. "I work 24 hours a day. You donít work, you become a junkie," he advises a new hire. He is equally beguiling as an eerily placid 37 year old, who calmly tells the audience about his perfect life, happy wife, charming daughter, and good friends, while slowly draining a glass of bourbon.

Serena Rudin Johns directs the show, which would be much more entrancing if it was edited for length. The fact that the theatre, which is nicely appointed with couches and movie theatre seating, is not air-conditioned didnít help the matter. While the skits contained revelatory components, most of them werenít deep enough to maintain the number of minutes they took. Cumulatively, this resulted in a play that had the same effect a drunk person has on a straight person...initially amusing, and ultimately tiresome.

Lynn Trenning, August 31, 2003

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