Is Justin Tanner mellowing out? The prodigious chronicler of L.A. mores has moved away from his reputation-making, edgy knockabout farces like “Zombie Attack!” and “Pot Mom,” in favor of exploring character conflict on a more realistic plane. “Day Drinkers,” staged by Bart DeLorenzo with a fine cast of Tanner regulars, is far from the scribe’s funniest or best-crafted piece, but may be his most humane and emotional one to date.
The setting, one of those lowdown downtown bars open as early as 9 a.m. for regulars’ benefit, is no jolly “Cheers,” although everybody knows your name (and your drinking habits, and your personal business).
The most Tanneresque of three overlapping, sort-of-love stories concerns the designs of blowsy rummy Val (Danielle Kennedy) on dotty drinking partner Mick (Tom Fitzpatrick). She’s already pawned his $7,000 engagement ring for $65 in beer money, justifying the efforts of his son Bradley (Jonathan Palmer) to run a little fancy interference before the nuptials get too far along.
Two already married couples’ woes are less eccentric and more heartfelt. Sharon (Maile Flanagan) and Kate (Melissa Denton) demonstrate how in-law troubles are not restricted to any particular sexual orientation, while bar owner Daniel (Todd Lowe) is trying to understand the coldness of wife Jenny (Chloe Taylor), which may or may not have something to do with his hunky brother Caleb (Cody Chappel) lurking about.
Kennedy, Fitzpatrick and Lowe initially barge in at full volume, rapping out lines as if doing a speed run-through for cue pickup. Missing is a sense of anyone slowly awakening to the new day, taking the first shot like the first cup of joe and gradually accommodating to the surroundings. The Val and Mick story, in fact, never does quite settle down.
But as more patrons arrive and settle in, their pace and rhythms get in sync for a genuinely touching slice of life, reminiscent of Charles Bukowski in its refusal to either idealize or condemn anyone for just trying to get by with a slowly sipped Jack Daniels. Sentimental, yes, but sentiment honestly come by, the stakes high and generally believable.