Drunken City takes place during one of those capital-letter “Nights That Changed Everyone’s Lives,” an evening where every character comes to a crossroads and makes a major realization about his or her life. Writer Adam Bock (who recently scored a smash with Manhattan Theatre Club’s The Receptionist) merges Sex and the City-style storytelling with Shakespearean structure to portray a sextet looking for love in both the right and wrong places. His result feels a tad recycled. Marnie (Cassie Beck), Linda (Sue Jean Kim) and Melissa (Maria Dizzia) are three best friends from Long Island who have become engaged at the same time. Melissa, though, has gone on to dump her philandering boyfriend, and envies Marnie, whose fiancée, we learn, is another ex of Melissa’s.
Marnie, meanwhile, has second thoughts of her own about her engagement. Unfortunately, these fears rear their ugly head during her bachelorette party at a downtown Manhattan bar, where Marnie meets Frank (Mike Colter) and sparks fly. Frank is out for a simple night on the town with his friend Eddie (Barrett Foa). It turns out that both also hail from the same Long Island town. When Melissa calls on friend Bob (Alfredo Narcisco) to come into the city and bail Marnie out, the coincidences continue as Bob and Eddie proceed to fall for each other as well.
These coincidences seem both convenient and trite, ridding City of much interest: how much can an audience invest in events that seem utterly foreordained? Director Trip Cullman does a yeoman’s job keeping the show energized and occasionally frenzied, allowing us to view the play’s events through the prism of someone who might have thrown back a few glasses of champagne themself. One major decision, though, to have the stage dramatically tilt to the left or right, hurtling its actors to the floor, during moments of great realization, feels too gimmicky and juvenile (David Korins designed the set).
One also cannot help but feel that Bock spoon-feeds his ideas out to the audience. The notion that City’s characters are getting married for the sake of being married is hardly a new one, and if Bock was unable to plumb any deeper into the topic, he could have arrived at a more artful way of saying so than giving his actors monologues that tell us these things on their own.
The six actors do a lot of heavy lifting. Colter and Foa are both charming, and Kim demonstrates a nimble sense of humor. Narcisco in particular impresses; his character appears late, and yet immediately blends in with the ensemble. He justifies every scene to show someone who is both macho and sensitive, and whose pride has caused him to spend more nights alone than he cares to let on.
It is the two lead women that dominate the action, and both Beck and Dizzia create women that are complex and real, even if City never feels the same way. Beck reminds me of many women her age I have seen. Marnie seems ditzy, but only to mask an insecurity that has caused her to be calculating in life. Dizzia (seen in Sarah Ruhl’s Eurydice) similarly nails such insecurity in Melissa, though her character manifests such in a more manipulative way, straddling the line between pain and humor perfectly.
But Bock has nowhere to go with the more serious elements of City, so he chooses to eschew them in favor of happy endings and pairings (in fact, the one character who doesn’t end up with a mate is left to skulk off, without any sense of the closure all the other characters get to enjoy). As a result, one leaves City feeling the same lack of balance that his actors do onstage.