Alex Dawson's Barman is a fantastic one-act show. Unfortunately, it's stretched to fill a two-act play. For the first hour, this punchy, inventive script amazed. As the play passed the two-hour mark, however, it seemed Dawson wanted not so much to display his talent as to forcibly prove it. He needn't have done so. There is no question he is a skilled writer. All he needs now is to become a skilled editor.
Barman is the story of Jack, a forty-something wannabe writer who pours drinks at a New Jersey dive bar. As both narrator and character, Jack uses the first act to introduce a collection of bar patrons who recount past fights, recent rumors and local lore. In the second act, which takes place two years later, Jack finds himself successful but alone, having sold his book but abandoned by his barroom friends who accuse him of selling out.
As Jack, Jonathan David Sang was likable, flashing an unpretentious smile and addressing the audience as insiders rather than mere observers. As the neighborhood musclehead, Jake Jordan comically captured the essence of every guy you've ever seen wearing a cut-off shirt from the local gym, while Joseph Pacillo and Morgan Baker, as two of the bar regulars, were dead-on in both New Jersey accents and booze-soaked attitudes.
Director Jane Hardy kept the action moving as smartly as possible, though perhaps a fraction too fast -- lighting and sound cues were mistimed on a number of occasions. But when the lights did shine they illuminated what may well have been the most realistic bar currently on a New York stage. From the ratty barstools to the functioning cash register to the wide selection of liquor bottles, the set and costumes showed an impeccable attention to detail.
Detail is what Dawson knows best. For anyone who's found himself trapped in a local gin mill listening to beer-induced ramblings, Dawson seems not so much to have written dialogue as transcribed it; his ear is that well-tuned. From the annoying guy who orders obscure, ludicrously named drinks, to the tough dimwit who speaks of himself in the third person, to the idiosyncrasies of a half dozen other neighborhood eccentrics, Dawson depicts them all perfectly in Barman. Yet he needs to step back and allow the audience to savor a clever comment or enjoy a juicy story, rather than bombard them with line after well-written line. Without a doubt, Alex Dawson is a darn good writer. A good editor could make him darn better.
(Also featuring Bruce Borman, Dave Dwyer, Amy Parlow, Joseph Prussak, and Marvin Schwartz)
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Copyright 2001 Ken Jaworowski