Theatre times: ‘Drinking in America’

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My second consecutive weekend in Limerick was to start with a dose of culture. I was going to Dolan’s on the Dock Road, for the 8 p.m. performance of ‘Drinking in America’ by Eric Bogosian. It’s a one man show, produced by Bottom Dog Theatre Company.

I was attending with a friend from home. Or so I thought.

Dolans’ is an amazing venue, comprising of four separate spaces – the pub which does a smashing meal; the Warehouse which is the large live music venue out back; the Kasbah Social Club which is the club space; and Upstairs – a more intimate performance space. The latter was the venue for this evening’s entertainment. It’s got a supper club kind of vibe – where you can watch music or theatre, seated at a table while drinking a big bag of cans – or rather a glass of beer poured from the tap by the barman in the venue.

Arriving about fifteen minutes before showtime, my clever-phone buzzed. A message of despair and apology. Well I guess I’d be seeing the show on my own then. No harm – if you can’t enjoy your own company then how are you meant to enjoy other people’s.

I flounced to the bar and ordered a pint of Hophouse.

As I was waiting a gentleman close by, smiled at me. I smiled back. How friendly people are in Limerick, I thought to myself. He approached me and said ‘hello’.

Slightly confused I said ‘hello’ back. That’s a bit too friendly, I thought.

‘Are you the person I arranged to meet?’ he asked.

The penny dropped. He was on a gay blind date. Probably arranged on Grindr. And I must have looked vaguely like his date.

I gave him a quick once over. Quite presentable. For a brief moment I thought of replying: ‘Why yes I am. Let’s  go see this play then.’

Before this could happen, some other bounder approached, tapped my potential suitor on the shoulder, and introduced himself. He looked nothing like me. Clearly this Grindr introduction had been made through the exchange of torso photos. Looking sheepish they practically sprinted away from me. Understandable. I was the other man, even though I had no knowledge or intention of being this.

Forlornly I climbed the stairs and found a suitable seat – good view of the stage, but not sitting like an obvious sore thumb in the middle of the room.

The stage was already set. Jazzy music playing in the background. A guitar player (Steve Ryan) strumming his instrument on the stage.

The lights dimmed, the compere showed us the emergency exits and instructed us to turn off our phones.

The actor made his way to the stage. The show began.

It’s a play that was written in the 1980s and it concerned the impact of booze and drugs on twelve individual characters in that greedy decade. From an industrial ceramic tile salesman, chatting up a prostitute at a sales convention in Texas; to the homeless guy shouting at passersby in New York while lying about his imaginary wealthy lifestyle; to the snooty British actor playing the all American hero in a beer advert; to the coke and booze addled agent doing deals for actors and producers from his LA apartment. To many more.

Liam O’Brien played all the characters, switching an item of costume or prop, to indicate a scene change. The talented guitarist provided the soundtrack to each segment (a bit too loudly at the beginning but that’s a minor quibble – I don’t like to strain, to hear because I am as lazy as sin.)

The pieces were all interesting in their own way. Some seemed slightly dated for the year 2017 – the 1980s mobile phone looked like a cement block; Richard Chamberlain mentioned as a heterosexual leading man?

Others seemed current – particularly the raging preacher, condemning the immigrants and the degenerates. This character could be called Trump-esque in fact.

The saddest segment (while the play was very funny, as it was being told through the prism of a gin bottle, there was a sad, grimy edge to all the stories) was the man with the perfect life, and the perfect wife, drowning his sorrows, sitting alone at a random bar. It reminded me of people with perfect Facebook lives.

The final piece was about a drunken Irish bum, living on the streets of New York, berating himself for his failure in his life. Speaking to the audience, he told us that our success was merely the flip side of his failure. It was unsettling. I felt like replying ‘Hey listen Mister, I was stood up by a friend tonight, and was actually contemplating breaking up a blind date a mere hour ago. Don’t be looking at me as any emblem of success.’

The performance by Liam O’Brien was remarkable – playing such a range of characters, with such an array of accents, moving with such ease between the roles. It was highly impressive.

It was an entertaining, thought provoking, hilarious and upsetting piece of theatre. The crowd seemed to enjoy it. I know I certainly did.

The Limerick show is the start of a national tour. Check your listings and go see it when it comes to your town.

 

 

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