Theater

'Drunk Enough': Foreign Relations

Adam Jonas Segaller, left, and Peter Stray in the politically pert satire.
Adam Jonas Segaller, left, and Peter Stray in the politically pert satire. (C. Stanley Photography -- Forum Theatre)
By Peter Marks
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 18, 2008

So Guy, this well-spoken fellow who should know better, is heedlessly, intemperately in love with the reckless Sam. It's the rose-colored-glasses sort of devotion that ignores all warning signs, denies all flaws and forgives all sins. Sam might be a bad boy, prone to nefarious stunts and catastrophic adventures, but he's Guy's guy, and nothing is going to come between them.

Except, maybe, the fact that Sam appears to be leading Guy into Armageddon. In Caryl Churchill's pleasingly, teasingly naked political satire "Drunk Enough to Say I Love You?," Guy is quite literally Great Britain, and Sam's the good ol' U.S.A. Any gray area regarding this assertion is erased in Forum Theatre's program, which identifies Sam as "a country."

Churchill -- the British author of such divertingly provocative works as "Far Away," "Cloud 9" and "Top Girls" -- packages her disgust with Britain's collaborative role in American foreign policy as the story of a clandestine affair between the leader of the wolf pack and a submissive member of the herd. The joke, of course, is on the "special relationship" the United Kingdom is said to share with its former colony, and the dramatist's view of Blighty as a lap dog for Uncle Sam.

Churchill is both laughing, and not. We, too, are supposed to chortle and be appalled. A goodly portion of the playwright's revulsion is illuminated in the weak-kneed Guy of Peter Stray, forever catering to the needs of Adam Jonas Segaller's alpha-male Sam, bedecked, Stanley Kowalski-style, in a sleeveless tee. Under John Vreeke's direction, though, the production at H Street Playhouse uses a font that might be a bit too bold for such a blatant script: Projections onto the stage of iconic images from America's recent wars and other forays abroad offer only redundant commentary.

Stray and Segaller paw each other and prowl on an elevated platform equipped with a ratty mattress; this affair is not high-class. In what amounts to a conversational game of table tennis, Guy and Sam complete each other's thoughts in half sentences as they wrestle with the boundaries of their illicit relationship. Guy, apparently, has a wife somewhere; perhaps her name is "Europa."

The language of lust is translated here into allusions to an astonishing array of controversial policies and foreign incursions. (When it comes to Nexis-searching, Churchill is a veritable virtuoso. ) Every now and then, Sam, sensing in Guy an undercurrent of unease, betrays his own insecurity: "You don't hate me?" Sam asks. Guy demurs, with enigmatic shrugs that hint at deep ambivalence: "Just sometimes, wish you . . ." His voice trails off.

It's altogether unvarnished agitprop, and some might find that a little of the snickering tone goes a long way. (You can groove, in any event, on its masterly construction.) Over 45 minutes, the actors don't always tune in successfully to the escalating sardonic rhythms, but they do manage to navigate the rapids of clever wordplay, in ways that allow this short, angry cry of the heart to work.

Forum's attempt to marry an evening of political theater to a small company's aesthetic is carried off far better than that of Constellation Theatre Company. Constellation has revived (or maybe disinterred) a difficult and faded piece, "Temptation," by the playwright Václav Havel, former president of the Czech Republic. The 20-year-old satire -- yet another adaptation of the legend of Faust -- here plays out in the offices of some sort of institute, where one of the scientists (Nick DePinto) causes a scandal with his embrace of the occult.

The play is as windy as a beach in a nor'easter, filled with droning talks between DePinto's Dr. Foustka and a stranger played by Frank Britton, who may be Mephistopheles -- or just an old man with serious foot-odor problems and bad case of Saint Vitus' dance.

As directed by Allison Arkell Stockman, the production at Source, on 14th Street NW, throws a lot of impressive bells and whistles at the play. With inventive sliding panels and cubbyholes and flora gliding on curtains, A.J. Guban's sets prove devilishly adaptable, while composer Tom Teasley's underscoring lends the evening a fittingly off-center air.

The performances, however, are all over the place. A few are outright hammy. (John Tweel fares best as a craven, supplicating member of the institute staff.)

In this tale of a possible visitor from hell, Havel's labored efforts come across as forcible jauntiness. It might have taken a miracle for Constellation to have devised something closer to heaven.

Drunk Enough to Say I Love You? by Caryl Churchill. Directed by John Vreeke. Production design, Michael Dove. Technical director, Mark W.C. Wright. About 45 minutes. Through Nov. 2 at H Street Playhouse, 1365 H St. NE. Call 800-494-TIXS or visit http://www.forumtheatredc.org.

Temptation, by Václav Havel. Directed by Allison Arkell Stockman. Sets and lighting, A.J. Guban; costumes, Yvette M. Ryan; original music, Tom Teasley; sound, Brendon Vierra; dance choreography, Giselle Alvarez; fight choreography, Cliff Williams III. With Ron Ward, Katie Atkinson, Jennifer Crooks, Ashley Ivey, Jesse Terrill, Lisa Lias, Heather Haney, Scott Ziegel, Gwen Grastorf. About 2 1/2 hours. Through Nov. 9 at Source, 1835 14th St. NW. Call 800-494-8497 or visit http://www.constellationtheatre.org.


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