Theatre Review: Drinking in America-sobering good

By Teale Phelps-Bondaroff

The horrors and drudgery of life often drive people to escape into the comforting haze of a toxin-induced stupor. Taking mind altering substances alters the way they feel, lowering inhibitions and allowing fantasy to overcome the sense of self. Some indulge in these activities rarely, others are consumed by them. Perhaps by questioning North American society’s dependence on drugs and alcohol, we can determine just what is wrong with the world today. Sage Theatre’s new production of Drinking in America attempts to answer those questions with the help of the stunning David Trimble.

After consuming enough acid, wine, hash, opium, cocaine, gin, champagne and countless other illicit mind altering substances to significantly incapacitate a small army of elephants, Trimble is amazingly alive on stage, conscious enough to portray the raw power and emotion required for Drinking in America. Trimble’s amazing and breathtaking performances transform his ethnicity, nationality, age and accent at the flash of light–he portrays 12 unique characters. He jumps from a southern industrial tile sales man to a heroine addict with a simple flip of his collar or adjustments to the minimalist set. It’s amazing how he is capable of maintaining a believable accent for the entirety of a monologue and then, just as quickly, switch to another one in seconds.

Presented in a Theatre-in-the-Round style, Drinking in America surrounds its lone actor with audience members, leaving him exposed on all sides and with no place to run. This may present difficulties for other actors, but Trimble steps up the to challenge and does so without hesitancy for over an hour and a half. With Trimble’s amazing stage presence audiences often become drawn into scene by cheering the character along or becoming part of the joke–one audience member was even solicited for funds. Trimble rolls with the punches, incorporating audience reaction into the scene flawlessly. Though heckling is not encouraged, it doesn’t seem to hinder the performance whatsoever. The minimalist set and costumes are also despite the limits imposed by their simplicity, help to portray the scenes effectively, though there could easily be a little more on set for the actor to interact with.

Drinking in America is full of believable characters, each one inciting different emotions and audiences will find themselves hating one character while empathising with others. Trimbles portrayal of a heroine addict puts a shiver down the spine and almost brings a tear to the eye. All these characters and emotions help move along the often hard to discern thread holding these monologues together–it has something to do with the consumption of alcohol and other substances and their effects on society and people. The play leaves audiences with questions about the society in which they live, but beyond that it’s hard to tell what else the playwright Eric Bogosian is trying to do with this one man play.

Despite this minor set back, theatregoers are in for a real treat with the phenomenal performances of David Trimble paired with a hard hitting power house of a play. Thanks to this actor’s skill, the inability to discern a running theme between the monologues in the play is all but insignificant. Drinking in America will most likely leave every audience member with a different set of hard-hitting questions needing answering to challenge their own habits of consumption.

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