Theater-going in New York City has a long and intimate history with drinking, from the boozy concert saloons and cabarets of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, to contemporary lobby bars on Broadway and drinking within immersive theater experiences such as Sleep No More and Queen of the Night. Occupying its own place in this legacy of combining theater and drinking, The Imbible at the Soho Playhouse not only serves drinks to its audience, but attempts to narrate the history of drinking since the beginning of humankind. This is a long and complex history, of course, and since The Imbible also attempts to explain the chemistry of alcohol and its biological effects on the body, the show can only tell a selective and incomplete history. But playwright and performer Anthony Caporale’s passion for the subject, as well as the overall fun ambiance of the production, make for an enjoyable and educational night at the theater/bar.
Artisan bartender and host of the popular web series "Art of the Drink TV," Caporale as "The Bartender" approaches the subject of alcohol from his practical experience. Trivia heads and history nerds will love the educational appeal of The Imbible, which is packed with facts on the history and science of alcohol. An especially magic moment of the performance is when Caporale reveals that the very basement that the play takes place in a former Prohibition speakeasy frequented by members of historic New York City’s Tammany Hall. To be drinking freely in space that used to harbor bootleggers is one of the most unique aspects of this production.
While Caporale educates and quizzes the audiences on facts about the history of drinking, the cast supports his documentary narrative with their dynamic voices and a capella harmonizing. The songbook of The Imbible draws from pop songs, and while it can be fun to recognize tunes, it may leave one yearning for more original music. That being said, the singers’ a capella talents are enjoyable, no matter the song, and the musicality adds to the amusing atmosphere of The Imbible.
While the musical talent of the cast is undeniably strong, the comic moments of Imbible can be hit or miss. Much of the show's humor depends on ensemble bits, and at times, the group dynamic falls flat or comes off as forced. Furthermore, while the mood of this production is undeniably casual, the comic gags need more focus from the director and performers to really hit their mark. One particularly distracting actor habit was laughing or smirking during line delivery—while cracking up during a comic sketch is one thing, nervous or excessive laughing tends to steal away from the comedy. All in all, the malfunction of some of these comic moments may come from an ambivalent relationship between the supporting cast and the audience. While The Bartender clearly communicates directly with the audience, as a narrator figure, the supporting cast is less securely related with the audience. The cast is, without a doubt, a funny group, but the comedic timing and stylization in The Imbible needs more polishing.
The Imbible is set to run into January 2016, but the run is unlimited and could very well be extended. The popularity of this show may indicate that contemporary audiences are eager to engage with fun and accessible performances, especially under the socially lubricating effects of alcohol. It should be mentioned that audience members must be 21 or older to attend The Imbible and the ticket price includes three drinks. Each drink is creatively worked into the narrative of the play. While this show, like any other piece of theater, is not perfect, the talent and dedication of the cast endear one to its antics. The Imbible makes for a fun, boozy, and surprisingly educational night of theater in New York City.
Tickets (which include three drinks) are $55 and can be purchased at Imbible.org. Performances are scheduled through January 2016 and take place at SoHo Playhouse (15 Vandam St. between Varick St. and 6th Ave.) in Manhattan and run Thursdays at 7 p.m. and Fridays-Saturdays at 9 p.m.