What do young people want from life and love? That’s a timeless question that repeats itself over the ages, as it does with Adam Bock’s The Drunken City, now onstage in an FSU/Asolo Conservatory production.
Of course, there are multiple ways to ask that question, and Bock takes a sort of off-kilter comedy approach that has its own quirky appeal. We first meet three of the play’s characters—Melissa (Kedren Spencer), Marnie (Mary Ellen Everett) and Linda (Colleen Lafeber)—as they giddily introduce themselves. “We’re all engaged!” they announce, while holding up photos of their fiances and twirling the skirts of their colorful springlike dresses like little children. They seem very happy, but it isn’t long before we discover that these suburbanites have some issues. Marnie is having second thoughts about her upcoming nuptials, Melissa is about to make an unpleasant discovery about her intended, and Linda delivers an inner monologue about “the city” to which they’re all headed for Marnie’s bachelorette party.
“The city’s like a monster,” she says, as all action around her ceases with a clanging noise and the spotlight singles her out, “that whispers dark dangerous ideas into your ear.” These types of monologues are repeated throughout by other characters, and there’s even a sort of supernatural element to the play as the evening advances.
For Marnie, the dark, dangerous idea may be cancelling the wedding she dreads but is afraid to derail, because, after all, the invitations are already printed and the bridesmaids’ dresses purchased. Meeting up with a couple of guys also on the town, though, she’s immediately drawn to Frank (Nolan Fitzgerald Hennelly); the two engage in some fervent kissing while her gal pals and Frank’s gay buddy, Eddie (Christopher Carlson,) try fruitlessly to pull them apart. Melissa and Linda both feel threatened by Marnie’s attempt to break out of the planned future, and they enlist their baker friend, Bob (Anthony J. Hamilton), to get Marnie back into the frame. But Bob has romantic feelings of his own to deal with; he’s always finding that his lovers end up fleeing his intensity. But maybe Eddie will be different…
It all sounds familiar enough territory, but what can be hard to convey is how Bock, and director Jesse Jou, make something original out of it. (Part of that is due to the design, too; Chris McVicker’s slightly surrealistic set and lighting fit the tone of Bock’s dialogue, and Becki Leigh’s color-coded costumes for the women also contribute to the overall atmosphere).
But what matters most may be how the cast, under Jou’s careful direction, practice good comic timing without ever sacrificing the likeability or vulnerability of their characters. The initial vapidity of some of their speeches and behavior fades as we discover the uncertainty that lies behind it, and we may find ourselves surprisingly drawn to these questing lovers.
The Drunken City (running just 80 minutes, with no intermission) continues through March 12 in the Cook Theatre; for tickets call 351-8000 or go to asolorep.org.