Barman is about a would-be writer (Jonathan David Sang, as Jack) who takes a job tending bar and doesn't do much writing for a few years -- but he does a heck of a lot of talking, most of it to the audience. Then (during intermission) he finally decides to write down a lot of what he's seen. The second act takes place in the coat room at his book party, when the old gang from the Candy Room (his former workplace) pay their respects.
This structure makes for an ungainly play, almost two-thirds of which would be exposition if there were more plot. As it is, all that happens is that one of the regulars dies, again during intermission, and the other regulars are up in arms against Jack because he didn't go to the funeral. (And well they might be upset; the patron died in the bar while having a drink.) Connecting the dots (which the playwright doesn't do), it would seem that perhaps Jack stopped working when he'd gotten all the material he needed from the regulars, and discarded them; or maybe he stopped because he felt bad that he'd helped old Billy down the road to an alcoholic demise.
Still, that first act is a lot of fun, with blarney galore (mostly from Jack), not to mention a lot of alcoholics to laugh at, like Wes, the loudly dressed, coke-sniffing ex-bouncer (Jake Jordan); Angelo, the aging would-be tough guy who seems to come out worse in fights than he would like others to think (Peter J. Coriaty); and poor Billy (Marvin W. Schwartz), a sweet old fart who drinks alone, except for one sentimental (as far as this play can be sentimental, which isn't much) monolog. Not to forget Amy Parlow as Grace, who walks in drunk one night, avoids a one-night stand with Jack, and ends up helping him publish his book (she's an assistant editor at a publishing house).
Anyone who has spent time in smelly gin mills trading universal truths with local rum-soaks will recognize the veracity of Dawson's observations. A veneer of geniality covers an interior as empty as yesterday's bottle of scotch. The play leaves a taste reminiscent of last-night's gin. These are by no means negative observations -- they speak to the truth of Dawson's perception, albeit a gloomy one underneath the comedy. Or as the program says, paraphrasing an ancient Chinese proverb, "A man takes a drink. Then the drink takes the man."
(The marvelously detailed barroom set included an exactly perfect photo of the original Rat Pack playing pool. The uncredited costumes were appropriately tacky, garish, sexy, or nondescript, as appropriate. The uncredited lighting established areas through specials that popped on a bit too alarmingly just as the person to be spotlit walked into them. Also featuring Morgan Baker, Brendan Connor, Alex Fry, Joseph Pacillo, and Joseph Prussak.)
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Copyright 2002 John Chatterton