JP Miller's 1958 Playhouse 90 teleplay Days of Wine and Roses was later turned into an acclaimed 1962 film. In both versions, the plot of young newlyweds undone by alcoholism is intense drama as well as a vivid snapshot of the time and place of the story. Director Rachel Wood set the Boomerang Theatre Company's production in the present, but the attitudes and viewpoint of the piece are rooted in another generation. Mentions of faxing and the 21st century, and a character's using a cell phone, didn't make it current.
Of course alcoholism is still a devastating disease, and breaking through the denial that keeps people from getting help is a set-up fraught with drama. But while Days details the denial, it is often more interested in the degradation of its protagonists. At least that's how it played with Mac Brydon as Joe Clay, rising young advertising executive, and Laura Siner as Kirsten, his drinking companion and later his wife. The play's structure also conspires against the characters and plot -- the first scene is at an AA meeting where Joe is giving a qualification speech. So later (actually earlier) when Joe and Kirsten meet cute, and drunk, at a party thrown for a client, the culmination of the story is already set. Star power can pull off this sort of thing (see either version noted above), but both Brydon and Siner chose (or were directed) to act externally, and their characters had no internal life.
So the plot keeps returning to the AA meeting -- which on television was probably a useful way for viewers to reenter the story after commercial breaks. But thankfully, here it also brought on stage a group of depressed misfit ensemble players, each of whom seemed, just by the way they carried themselves, and the way they looked (or didn't look) at each other, to have stories of their own. (It was particularly striking when these AAers transformed into drinking guests at the party where Joe and Kirsten meet -- that they would later be at an AA meeting themselves.) Unfortunately this is not their story, but Joe and Kirsten's; and just as unfortunately, there wasn't enough presented to really understand what is going on with those two. Kirsten stops drinking when she has a baby, and it ought to be devastating when she chooses Joe over her child by drinking again at Joe's urging, but it seems more like petulance, and wasn't explained in dramatic (or acting) terms. When Kirsten's father (Wally Carroll) accuses Joe of corrupting his daughter, is he willfully ignoring the fact that Kirsten was already a drunk when she met Joe, or didn't he know? That's the kind of thing that makes drama, and by which a director can also direct the audience. In any event, Carroll was able to show an irascible, confused father, and Margaret Flanagan had a good character turn as a neighbor who is willing to take advantage of Joe and Kirsten's misfortune, but grounded enough to look after their daughter when they go on a bender.
A set-piece of the film version -- Joe's rampage in a greenhouse searching for a bottle he's hidden -- was reenacted surprisingly well, thanks to Harlan Penn's set design, which placed the greenhouse on a platform upstage and above the multi-purpose thrust-stage playing area. Scott Davis's lighting design showed the striking difference between a walk by the river and a sleazy motel. But while Kirsten's prostituting herself at the motel for a drink was likely shocking when the play was new, its impact was muted and didn't have much more meaning than when she and Joe drank vanilla extract to calm their shakes. Degrading, sure, but there was no real sense of what was lost. Joe has a hard recovery in front of him, and Kirsten may never admit her powerlessness over alcohol. But here it really didn't seem to matter much. Maybe what was needed was a catchy title song.
Also with Ronald Cohen, John Flaherty, Victoria Rosen, Andrea Judge, Philip Emeott, Montgomery Maguire, and Paul Schnee as a wonderfully sympathetic recovering alcoholic.
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Copyright 2003 David Mackler