Drunk Enough to Say I Love You?
by Caryl Churchill
directed by John Vreeke
produced by Forum Theatre
reviewed by Tim Treanor
This is a horrible little play, alternately turgid and incomprehensible. It is a waste of a fine director and two good actors, and should you chose to go, it will be a waste of your time and money as well.
The ostensible business of the play is the relationship between two figures – Sam (Adam Jonas Segaller), who Churchill identifies as a country and who obviously represents the U.S., and Guy (Peter Stray) who Churchill says is, well, a guy, an Englishman who is seduced by the dynamic Sam into leaving his wife and children and coming to America. “This play literally shows what happens when two countries ‘get into bed with one another'” promises Forum artistic director Michael Dove. “It will give you a fresh perspective on the ‘dysfunctional relationships’ in our nation’s past.”
Dove thus inadvertently demonstrates why this play is shipwrecked before it sets sail: by Churchill’s own insistence, it is not a play about two nations getting in bed with one another but of a nation getting in bed with a man. The analogy is unsustainable. A person’s relationship with another person’s country cannot be compared to a person’s relationship with another person, any more than a person’s relationship with another person’s furniture can be. I have a relationship to England: I read its history, follow its politics and enjoy its culture. I also have a relationship with my wife. The difference is that when I neglect to take out the garbage, England is indifferent.
Let us move to the meat of the matter, or whatever passes for sustenance in this thin gruel of a play. Once safely ensconced on the single-mattress bed which makes up the entire set, Sam and Guy talk to each other in unrelated sentence fragments. It occasionally appears as though one of them wishes the other to complete his sentence; if so, he is invariably disappointed. The effect is as though you are sitting, bored, at a restaurant trying to listen to the conversation at the table next to you. Occasionally someone will say something interesting and you will strain to hear the response. Invariably you will fail, and you leave the restaurant wishing you had brought a book.
Actually, it’s worse than that, because the people at the restaurant table know what they’re saying, even if you don’t, and their voices carry discernable emotional pitch and flow. I was never convinced that the actors – or the characters, for that matter – knew what they were saying. Mamet, by way of comparison, writes in sentence fragments which are difficult to understand on the page. But a good company doing Mamet will make sure that his meaning is clear through spot-on line reads. Here, all the line fragments are read as two-second monologues, and Churchill’s meaning, if she has any, is further obscured. Normally this fault would be laid at the feet of the director, the actors, or both, but in this instance I could not imagine line readings which would make Churchill’s fragments comprehensible.
Much of the play consists of Sam reciting depredations past or planned. Most of these depredations are pure fiction. Sam recites a litany of tortures, including our despicable venture into waterboarding, but soon expands into bizarre and exotic fantasies – cutting off breasts, pouring turpentine on testicles, and so on. Sam also recites a list of countries bombed, including a fictional bombing of China and Peru; and a list of election fixed which includes the startling suggestion that the U.S. rigged the election of the Socialist da Silva as President of Brazil. Whatever critical point Churchill is trying to make here is immediately subverted by these glaring inaccuracies.
These serial monologues are accompanied by images projected onto the H Street Theater’s mottled back wall. Some of these images bear a relationship to what is being uttered on stage, but it is pretty much pot luck. Because a portion of the images are projected on the overhang above the H Street stage, the images are cut off and moved about a foot to the right at the top, and many folks are shown with their craniums hovering over empty air. I do not believe the effect was deliberate.
A critical examination of the relationship between Britain and the U.S., done in a serious way through serious art, is a favor not only to audiences but to the nations involved as well. David Hare’s Stuff Happens, performed recently at Olney, was such an examination, and I enjoyed it immensely. Drunk Enough to Say I Love You?, on the other hand, is simply malicious gas.
Running Time: 45 minutes, no intermission
When: Thursdays through Sundays until November 2. Sunday shows are at 2; all other shows at 8. Additional 2 p.m. shows on October 25 and November 1.
Where: H Street Playhouse, 1365 H Street NE, Washington, D.C.
Tickets: $20 ($18 for seniors and students). To purchase, go to the website or call 1.800.494.TIXS