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
Michael Dove says
We could always franchise! Forum West is underway~
Also, for those asking, the Washington Post review ran today:
Nice write-up by Peter Marks
Ronnie Ruff says
I miss DC Theatre!!!!! Michael, how about you and Dan move Forum and Solas Nua to Austin!!!! Please?
John B says
I’ve always found people’s response to Churchill’s work to be extremely frustrating. You either love it or hate. 9 times out of 10 I believe a persons hatred for her work comes out of an unwillingness to listen in the theatre. I read an interview with Churchill in a London magazine who said that modern day audiences are not expected or trained to listen in the theatre. Film and television have trained us to sit back, relax and allow the experience to wash over us. Churchill openly admits that she is trying to retrain the audiences ear to actually listen to what her characters are talking about. I think most audiences loathe her work because it’s too much work to make sense of what she is trying to do. For those of you who don’t know her work, I personally am a huge fan. So I’d say check out the Forum production for yourself
Flann O'Brien says
For those curious about what Washington Post critic Peter Marks has to say about Forum’s controversial production, please visit:
You’ll see that not only does his review contrast sharply with Mr. Treanor’s, Mr. Marks goes out of his way to recommend this Churchill premiere (as the * next to the title indicates).
Why not go and see the play and make an opinion of your own? For is that not what theatre is for – to provoke discussion?
Allison Stockman says
I commend Michael’s response and Forum’s dedication to producing challenging material and welcoming critical response. I second his belief that there is far more to be gained by taking risks than playing it safe. One of the things I enjoy most about Forum’s shows is that they are bold, provocative and adventurous. I look forward to seeing Drunk Enough To Say I Love You.
Thank you to DC Theatre Scene for promoting this kind of open discussion.
Three cheers for Michael Dove.
Michael Dove says
I promise this isn’t a director/producer posting a complaint about a review—I’ve promised myself to never do that!
No, I just wanted to chime in on a few thoughts mostly because I find the debate interesting and a debate we should be having as a theatre company/audience community.
To answer the latest posts, we should be seeing other reviews pop up from the usual sources any time now.
About the effect of reviews on sales, etc: While we are a small-ish company and have only been around for our now 5th season, I can only relate our experience. Good reviews can obviously help. Stellar reviews make a huge difference. And not to sound our own trumpets, but we’ve been fortunate to avoid that many really scathing reviews. In all of that time, we’ve seen sales all over the place and many factors can come into play with that. Location, as we’ve moved around several times in our history, the pre-show “buzz,” the playwright/play title, etc. BUT—reviews do make a difference, as I’ve seen larger companies’ productions truly suffer because of negative press.
Should this effect the reviewer’s writing? I sure hope not. Obviously, I would have liked to see a more positive review above these comments, but that’s Tim’s opinion. I respect Tim a great deal and have always enjoyed his writing and lobby discussions. He sees enough theatre and has a solid perspective of our art, so his opinion is extremely valid. We as artistic companies open our doors and invite these publications in to critique our work. In part, it is due to the added, free marketing, but it is also an integral aspect of our work that promotes dialogue between audience and artist and we have to take the good with the bad.
What’s a company to do? Well, to begin with, we knew going in with tis production, that it would have its detractors. To be honest, that’s a pretty good reason to even do a show. The plays we select at Forum are never easy choices or tailored to box office success. We are a company founded on creating work that sparks discussion and sometimes debate. We want to tell stories that elicit a reaction and make our audiences think about the topics raised. This mission can lead to shows that will not be everyone’s “cup of tea,” but a reaction to the work is key. Especially when it comes to Churchill– there seems to be a “love it or hate it” response to her work. When we did her play THE SKRIKER, we heard from some of our audience members that they did not like the show one bit and some reviewers saw it as beyond our abilities and resources; some of the strongest negative response we had ever heard. On the other hand, however, it is the show that is most often mentioned to me as certain people’s favorite show we’ve ever produced. Also, for those who didn’t like the show, they have come to respect us for our risky choices and have stayed with us ever since.
DRUNK ENOUGH TO SAY I LOVE YOU? is not an easily packaged, easily consumed sort of show. Rarely, in its few productions, has it received an average review. We’ve already heard opinions from both sides, all strong reactions, after just 2 performances. I’m actually somewhat encouraged by the tone of this review above, as a strong reaction to the work is very much valid and ultimately what we want as a company. Would I like to have every reviewer fawn all over our shows, every time? Sure–you bet. But I’d start worrying when we received middling, lukewarm, reactions. We aren’t doing our job in that case. We want audiences to enjoy our work and we hope that we can challenge them and encourage them to think and discuss the play at the same time.
Lastly, this is a play with serious subject matter and is not merely a kitchen sink comedy. It is well acted and boldly staged and delivers a strong message that is not always easy to digest. Our nation and other nations around the world have done some truly “horrible” and “incomprehensible” (to borrow some words from Tim) things in this world’s short history. These are not easy issues to deal with, but we have to face them as realities and decide how we move forward. I encourage you all to come check out the show and give some real thought to these issues, then stay with us afterwards for our nightly post-show discussions. And hey—at $20, we are still one of the least expensive venues in town! If you love Churchill, you won’t want to miss an area premiere of her work when you have the opportunity. Especially one as politically charged as this, in DC of all places.
Apologies for the length of this posting, but I was encouraged by the debate and wanted to throw in my 2 cents. I know I jumped around a bit, but I suppose without a moderator in THIS debate, that’s OK! Thank you, DCTS for giving us the venue. All the best~
PS–we encourage the debate over on our own blog, at http://www.forumtheatreblog.com
U. Gino Kneel says
Steven, all due respect, but tell that to a producer. Their money is limited and valuable too.
John Thomas says
I just checked for you David and there have been no other reviews posted on any other site. I am sure that when and if the other reviews are posted, they will be posted here under “Their Reviews”.
David Thomas says
I went to “their reviews” and did not see another re this piece. Does that mean they did not like it but chose not to warn me? How cruel. DMT
Steven McKnight says
While I haven’t seen this play (and may not), I would like to make a few points. I have found that many playwrights with strong ideological views can do wonderful, clever work (such as Churchill’s “Top Girls”) but can also fall prey to being angry, heavy-handed, and lazy. Second, I rarely make decisions on seeing a play based upon a single review or friend’s opinion, even one I respect as much as Tim. That’s why I encourage people to use this site’s rare feature, the “Their Reviews” portion. I expect that more reviews of this work will be published shortly and linked by this site. In addition, I think that Tim’s review, while a little rough, is also descriptive enough to help people who like this type of work make an informed decision on whether to see it anyway. Finally, I get tired of the “this review could cost the company lots of money” argument. My time and money, and that of my fellow theatregoers, is limited and valuable. Thanks to this site and other reviewers, I have seen some wonderful work I initially intended to pass on since DC is such a busy theatre region. It is much more common that I am prompted to see a show that I would have let slip by than I am discouraged from seeing a show by a bad review. On the whole, I believe that reviewers boost the theatre community.
U. Gino Kneel says
What then, Rachel, are the alternatives? Given that box office receipts and critical reviews go so hand-in-hand, would you then suggest that theatres only do safe choices tailored toward a particular set of critics’ standards? I’ll grant you, Rachel, that Caryl Churchill’s not everyone’s cup of tea, and yes, at least two people hated the show. But, “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…” isn’t exactly the most objective of opinions. Damn, if I posted a comment with that level of vitriol, I’d be banned from the board.
Rachel T. says
Has anyone ever told Peter Marks not to write a review about a show he didn’t like? So, now you want only “positive reviews” to be posted? Gino, if the show was good, Tim would have said so. Forum’s “Last Days of Judas Iscariot” received a rave from Tim and if I recall, it won the Audience Choice Award for Best Play here last month. I saw “Drunk Enough…” at the same performance Tim saw it, and I disliked it even more than Tim did. Now you have two people who didn’t like it.
I agree with Bob, if a reviewer finds this much to hate and be disgusted with, I’m pretty curious to see it. Especially since it’s Churchill, who’s forged her reputation out of being uncompromising and ahead of her time.
You can check out a positive review (and some angry audience reviews) of the NYC version here: http://theater2.nytimes.com/2008/03/17/theater/reviews/17drunk.html
U. Gino Kneel says
Ouch. Having done some criticism myself, I understand that pure objectivity is desirable but nearly impossible to acheive (heaven help any show I ever reviewed when I was cranky). But consider that a critic’s spleen-venting doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and bad reviews put more than actors’ egos at peril. A negative review (which, just to remind, is but one person’s opinion) can cost theatres thousands of dollars of lost box office revenue. The perilous state of the economy means that audiences are dwindling, and smaller theatres need every penny they can get. Perhaps if you hate the show, you should consider not posting a review at all. Just because you found no artistic merit in the production doesn’t mean that others won’t. (Disclosure: I’m not connected to Forum Th/D, although I am friends with the two actors)
Bob Bartlett says
Wow — now I’m even more excited to see it! I haven’t read the play yet but I love Churchill.