The moment the audience crossed NADA's thresholds, they realized they were not in the venue that has become so familiar to OOB theatregoers. They had entered a typical East Village bar. Hence the title of this new offering by promising young playwright Rich Stone.
First introduced is Alfred, a lovable drunk singing bastardized versions of "Stormy Weather." The role was played with touching pathos by G.W. Rooney. It is 4:00 a.m. and Sloan, the bartender, is in a great hurry to usher Alfred out the door. As the quick-witted bartender, Louis Carbonneau had charisma and impeccable comic timing, handling Stone's clever repartee with ease. Sloan, it seems, is a dedicated painter who is "exploring prismatic derivations of primary colors in the sunrise" and must get home in time to catch the morning's offering. His girlfriend, Janine, was played with a ditzy vigor by Rachel Jacobs that kept the audience rooting for her from the start. Like a fly to manure, she has become reliant on her acting teacher who offers Strasberg, therapy, tea, and sympathy. She will not go on an audition because acting work, she asserts, will interfere with her study of acting. The final and most enigmatic character among this disparate assembly is Palomina, played by Beresford Bennett. Palomina (the feminine form of Palomino) is a drag-queen hooker, constantly in search of one more hit of H. Although it is a small role, the character is so engaging and well-written, a more skilled actor could have stolen the show with it.
Stone's rapid-fire humor at first makes the play seem like a comedy. On the realization that all the characters are liv\xf5 ng in their own fabricated worlds, the comedy takes a dark and disturbing turn. Alfred, as fate would have it, is a former successful motivational speaker/self-help guru. In his drunken fog, he offers sage advice to others; however, he is incapable of helping himself. The play leaves the audience with an uncertain feeling about Sloan. This self-absorbed, snide quipster makes a surprisingly magnanimous gesture -- a gesture that may provide him with the key to overcoming his personal demons. Janine is the only character who clearly rises above her own self-deceit to take charge of her life and career.
The greatest strength of this production lay in the writing. Stone has tremendous insight into human foibles. With a brilliant ear for realistic dialogue, tremendous wit and humor, he brings his characters to life in a profound and interesting show. Director Quiche Lloyd-Kemble effectively used this often challenging space to its full potential, moving seats closer to the stage and transforming the space into a realistic "dive bar." The effect was that the audience felt a part of the action. The actors made their entrances and exits from the door that leads to the street. (Whatever did they do during the blizzard?!) Kemble also deserved credit for the strong ensemble feel among the cast.
On the evidence of this play, doubtless Stone would flinch at being called "promising." Doing Time in the East Village is filled with people who have "lots of promise" but fail to realize their potential. Stone need not fear that he falls into the same category as his characters. His play sends out a "bullshit alert" to the fringe arts community. Just living in Bohemia doesn't mean someone is worthy of the title "artist." It is necessary to get out there and do something-- risk criticism, relish victories (no matter how small), and undertake bold things.
Copyright 1996 Steven Solomon
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