This review was corrected on April 23, 2003.
Scripter Gary Lennon’s one-act legiter, focusing on the disparate personalities giving testimony at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, originally preemed Off Broadway in 1991 and was subsequently the basis for the 1997 feature “Drunks.” Though Lennon has revamped the piece to include five new characters while exorcising five others, the inherent problems with this work are still here. He utilizes almost no character interaction or thematic development to underscore the 12 cathartic monologues that make up the work. Helmer Bobby Moresco adequately guides an accomplished ensemble to the heart of each of these troubled individuals but this is definitely a case where the parts are much greater than the whole.
Set at a downstairs AA meeting hall (effectively rendered by John DeMeo) on Christmas Eve, this particular evening becomes an emotional clearinghouse for the holiday angst being felt by the attendees. Seven-years-sober group leader Jack (Sonny Marinelli) chronicles almost the complete history of his life, describing getting drunk for the first time at 12 and the remarkable sensation of having sex while sober for the first time at 30. Jack then proceeds to invite the attendees to the center podium to purge the demons that might drive them back to alcohol. The ensuing procession of stories is generally interesting, but without any variation on the theme the exercise becomes tedious.
Patty (Amy Smallman) literally leaps to the podium to describe why she can’t go home for the holidays to her large unforgiving Irish American family, knowing her mom would “take out the slide show of how I ruined her life.” A particular sore point with the family is when they discovered a drunk and quite nude Patty in the garage trying to pull the pants off her teenage niece’s boyfriend.
One of the more riveting portrayals is turned in by R.D. Call as taciturn ex-convict Joe. Sober for 10 years, he is still haunted by the Christmas Eve memory of the last time he saw his deceased wife. Recalling the night, he states, “Alcoholics don’t have relationships, they take hostages.” He then proceeds to describe waking up in jail after blacking out from a binge and being told by the guards that he stabbed his wife over 20 times.
The stories run the gamut from pathetic to horrific to occasionally heartwarming and humorous. Shelly (Kristin Anderson-Groh) is incensed that her overly protective mother is staying with her over the holidays and actually sleeping in bed with her. Nattily dressed Tim (Simon Petrie), who is gay, is only beginning to come to terms with having been molested as a child by his macho, disapproving father. Ragingly unhappy Doris (M.J. Karmi) lost her son to AIDS when he was 17 and she can’t forgive herself of all the years she was drunk and was unable to accept his love for her. Long-suffering Jim (Jayden Lund) is anguishing over spending his first Christmas without his wife who died of cancer, knowing that his years of drunkenness kept him from truly appreciating her.
A welcome respite from the rounds of anguished soul bearing comes in the guise of Rick (G.W. Stevens), a ragingly drunk Scotsman who literally barges into the meeting, totally unrepentant for falling off the wagon, and proceeds to castigate everyone for not being able to take control of their own lives. Also noteworthy is Helen (Sylva Kelegian), who offers an eye-opening account of how she paid for her booze by working in a sex club as an attendant but after passing out found herself an unwilling participant. She is the only speaker who admits she probably won’t be able to stay sober.
According to the program, future performances of “Blackout” are going to feature guest stars that will take over one of the scheduled roles. The list of performers includes Carol Kane, Eileen Brennan, Nora Dunn, Dan Lauria, Barry Primus, Megan Fellows and others. At this performance, young Wilmer Valderrama (Fox’s “That ’70s Show”) quite adequately assumes the persona of Cam, an irreverent, unemployed scatterbrain who finds fault with every aspect of his life except himself.