DRINK, DANCE, LAUGH, AND LIE
Liz ….. Paola Dionisotti
Reade ….. Paul Hickey
Miles ….. Lee Ingleby
ONE LIFE AND COUNTING
Glenn Garon ….. Ryan Early
Aaron ….. Michael Higgs
Linda ….. Tabitha Wady
Noah ….. Clive Wood
An enterprising link-up between theater and TV bears only partially ripened fruit with “Breaking In,” two one-act plays by young writers working in tandem for the Bush and Channel 4. The upside is clear: Both writers have a voice, and in the case of the double bill’s first author, 29-year-old Australian expat Samuel Adamson, an intriguingly nasty one at that. Their ability to sustain a series or a TV film is somewhat more doubtful insofar as both plays eventually seem like overextended skits. And in the case of Mette M. Bolstad, 35, the Norwegian writer of “One Life and Counting,” it’s not immediately clear how committed she even is to the small screen — the play contains a scene in which a TV set gets shot.
In “Drink, Dance, Laugh, and Lie,” a man’s aspirations are shot when onetime kids TV show presenter Reade’s chance at a newly revivified career turns out to be part of a sexual scam. Not that Reade (Paul Hickey) has any idea what will ensue when he is first chatted up at a bus stop by fellow Mahler devotee Miles (Lee Ingleby), who has barely clocked the onetime host of the (dubiously titled) “Discs and Things” before he is coming on to him. Not long after, the men are back in Miles’ flat, where the energetic fan proves his erstwhile obsession with his onetime idol by producing a Radio Times magazine cover of Reade that is more than a decade old.
The prospect of romance ensues, with the bedroom scene reprising the reversal of light for dark (and the other way around) that famously defined Peter Shaffer’s now-classic “Black Comedy.” But the blackest of tricks turns out to be the one played on Reade, whose second chance at celebrity becomes nothing more than a con to rope him into the porn industry fold, with Liz (Paola Dionisotti) — the putative architect of his new career — revealed to be a garrulous go-between. At base, the play is a stunt as craftily conceived as Es Devlin’s Swiss army knife of a set, whose flexibility prompts the evening’s one real belly laugh. For all its initial good cheer — and notwithstanding the amiability of director Angus Jackson’s fine cast, newcomer Ingleby in particular — “Drink, Dance, Laugh, and Lie” elicits a frisson that passes more fleetingly than the play’s cumbersome title might suggest.
Adamson isn’t a Bush first-timer, having made an impressive debut at the same theater several seasons back with the first-rate “Clocks and Whistles.” The Oslo-born Bolstad, by contrast, is relatively new to the London fringe, and one can imagine “One Life and Counting” seeming funnier the further removed it is from the America (Elvis Presley pre-eminently) with which it is obsessed.
As it is, a promising opening ultimately leaves its characters running in place while the audience is left admiring the comic talent of Tabitha Wady’s deliciously glazed Linda, a gum-chewing sex slave notably less dim than she first appears. “I’d fuck Linda if I could find her,” says Glenn Garon (Ryan Early) though it’s the violent Aaron (Michael Higgs) who ends up nabbing the buxom prize, much to the chagrin of Noah (Clive Wood), the boys’ father, for whom life begins and ends at Graceland.
Presumably, it’s among the points of the play that there’s precious little grace to be found in the dim lives on view, especially given that Sacha Wares’ production sometimes appears as if it wants to outdo Sam Shepard in the slob-around-the-trailer sweepstakes. To that end, there’s much nibbling of unheated pizza and a tone that is alternately elegiac and angry. Even here, though, Devlin’s seemingly bare-bones set continues to surprise, which is more than one can say for the play it contains.