On this busy theater weekend, the folks at Fresno City College hopes you’ll be attracted to a contemporary play that has a lot in common with a “Sex and the City” episode. I have a roundup of theater openings in Friday’s 7 section, and in it I write about “Drunken City,” which opens Friday night. Here’s my extended interview with director Chuck Erven.
What attracted you to this play and playwright?
Over the years Adam Bock has become one of the most prolific and produced playwrights working. It seems like he has a new production opening every other month. I’d read a few of his plays such as, The Office Plays and really liked them. There is something about his Mamet-like dialogue and his sometimes minimalist approach to storytelling that is very fresh and appealing. When I read The Drunken City I immediately responded to those qualities as well as to the play’s generous spirit and humor. The characters and their conflicts are honestly drawn and completely accessible. They grapple with issues like being true to oneself (even if it hurts others) and making life altering decisions about love, marriage and friendship. In many ways the play is similar to the movies, Bridesmaids but is also a gentle coming-of-age story. There’s also a bit of A Midsummer Night’s Dream sprinkled in for good measure. Ultimately what appealed to me was the hopeful quality that the play left me with (And around the Christmas season, I don’t think that’s a bad thing to be left with).
How will you be using the studio theater space? (And what will the seating capacity be?)
The play mostly takes place on New York City sidewalks (That’s right…sidewalks. Did I mention that the play is small scale?). So we decided to build an elevated sidewalk and the audience will sit on both sides of the sidewalk (stage). It’s similar to seeing a production “in-the-round” and has the benefit of feeling very close to the actors. There is also a pretty niffy effect that happens with the stage/sidewalk that sometimes nudges the play a step toward the surreal. There are around 80 seats available per performance so we encourage audiences to purchase tickets early.
Tell us about the plot.
The story focuses on three very good friends who happen to all become engaged around the same time. The majority of the play takes place one night during the bachelorette party for Marnie, who is getting married first. While on a bar crawl in New York City, the girls meet a couple of guys and Marnie makes an impulsive decision that sets the conflict in motion. She begins to question her impending marriage and the choices she’s made in her life which results in hurt feelings, shattered friendships and hard decisions about the future.
Is it refreshing as a director to having your college-student actors be close in age to the characters they’re playing?
It’s certainly accessible and more readily personal for the cast. But the play has its own challenges that the cast has completely embraced. For instance, the dialogue is highly structured and at times a bit elliptical. There is a period of the play in which most of the characters are drunk and so the dialogue and action reflect this state. How the actors play these moments while maintaining story line, comic payoff and emotional truth is as much a challenge as playing a character outside of one’s age and/or experience. These are fully realized characters that the playwright shows us (warts and all) and the required level of commitment and skill from the actor is pretty significant. I think it absolutely helps that the actors are close to the age of the characters they play but perhaps what’s more helpful is that these are very good actors. They’re funny and completely true and I watch them every night and think how lucky I am to have them in this show.
Anything else I should know about this production?
The play moves quickly (clocking in around 85 minutes long) and has a contemporary style and tone. There’s even a DJ who plays club music and serves as a kind of Oberon for our production. I think the play certainly can appeal to a younger audience because it’s so immediately “of the time” but the themes and characters are universal and timeless. If I can find aching moments of self-recognition in the story of these 20-somethings then the play must be hitting the right notes (And…I’m not a 20-something…trust me.)