In Dryclean, a semi-autobiographical account of three hours in the life of Brendon, a heroin addict, Andrew Bauer explores the seamy, pre-dawn world of the Lower East Side drug subculture. It is meant to be a realistically provocative view that strips away the supposed glamour of drug use with painful truths. And while Bauer writes with a refreshing sense of self-assurance, racing down the well-trodden road of addiction without forcing moral judgments on either his characters or audience, for all of the dramatic posturing Dryclean remains dramatically hollow. Part of the problem has to do with the way Bauer has structured and populated his work. As long as Brendon, deep in debt, running from a hit man and frantic to make a buy from his new dealer, is dogged by his enabling girlfriend, Gerde and haunted by the spectral presence of his dead running buddy, Doberman, Bauer remains somewhat on track in his portrayal of a man at the edge of a life of self-destructive behavior. But every time the play threatens to break new ground, Bauer falls back on tried-and-true conventions, introducing characters and situations that exist merely to add local color at the expense of clean-lined tension. While the character of Flaco, the drug dealer, is probably a necessity, as conceived he seemed more of a Messianic speed bump than the threatening presence he should be. Two other roles, those of an uptown socialite and a winsome street kid, were even more exasperating in their superfluous consumption of stage time. And when Bauer has them bond with Erde and Flaco in the last moments, the pat unreality of it all just can't stand up to the glare of lighting designer Miriam Nilofa Crowe's bright amber-and-blue sunrise.
Tony Cronin directed with gritty, fast-paced precision, guiding all of the performers well, particularly his three leads. If he was hamstrung by the play's more sentimental twists and turns, the performances he elicited from his cast were able to gloss over the inadequacies with an effortless intensity that made everything appear to be much better than it actually was.
As Brendon, Jason Bauer (yes, he is related to the playwright) gave a mesmerizing performance. His clipped vocal inflections, mixed with an odd scurrying gait, were a bizarre physical manifestation that nevertheless allowed an intensely personal, totally and intelligently realized performance to burst through. Matched with the deadpan brilliance of Herron's Doberman and Tracy Larson's edgy but moving turn as the frustrated Erde, these three kept Dryclean moving with harrowing dramatic force.
With street clothes for costumes, a doorway with a stoop and a few props for a set (both uncredited), and with Miriam Crowe's aforementioned lighting, the physical production was appropriately grungy, dark, and simple but carried the atmospheric day, so to speak, with as much assurance as all of the other aspects of the evening. If only it had all lived up to its own aspirations.
(Also featuring Marci Brown, Brian Gianci, and Melissa MacGregor.)
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Copyright 2002 Doug DeVita