Down the Drain
The leads put so much of themselves in this new play that it transcends fiction
Reviewed by Barry Pineo, Fri., Aug. 19, 2011
Down the Drain
Hyde Park Theatre, 511 W. 43rd, 479-7529
Through Aug. 28
Running time: 2 hr., 20 min.
See this latest effort from Imagine That Productions only if you wish to guffaw. I refer to that uncontrollable laugh that comes not just from the bottom but from beneath your belly – from your very center, pulsing out in abundance, so that every time you think it's over, you laugh so hard that it infects others. And they laugh because you're laughing.
See Down the Drain because you will find so many reasons to laugh. For while A. John Boulanger's original script is most certainly funny in the "ha-ha" sense of that word, it's also funny in the "isn't that strange" sense, and funny in the "that makes me feel kinda weird" sense. Some of the most profound and original laughs come not from the "ha-ha" but from the "ho-ho, whoa, I can't believe I just heard that."
So here's the setup: The Thursday opening night had to be postponed a day, so I saw the show the following night, and it had a very full house with a very friendly audience. And I mention that very specifically, for this show is not just any other show. The leading performers are Martin Burke and Meredith McCall, who have performed together in Austin countless times (really, they couldn't even tell you how many) during the last 15 years or so, including, and most notably for Boulanger, the successful House of Several Stories in 2009. So at some point – and I'm mostly surmising here – Boulanger decided to get Burke and McCall together and write a play just for the two of them.
Now, while you could keep the biography out of this, it would do a disservice to the entire experience – especially watching this play with these particular actors and this particular audience. For while Boulanger's play works wonderfully on a purely scripted level – the absurdly wacky story of a man in New York ostensibly trapped in his bathroom with all the vodka he can drink and scads of multicolored pills he consumes on a regularly scheduled basis, interacting with a woman in Utah through the medium of his (really clean) toilet – it also works on a personal level for anyone who's experienced Burke's and McCall's performances, which is most likely anyone who's been to the theatre in Austin during the last decade and a half. Suffice it to say that much biography is worked into this sweetly twisted script, as well as room for the two other actors in the show – the delightfully schizophrenic Breanna Stogner and the tannin-dry Judd Farris – to steal huge chunks of scenes.
But no one can truly steal the show, because Boulanger built it very much for these four actors. Remove any one of them and the whole would suffer greatly. But it's built especially for Burke and McCall – perhaps Burke most of all – because these two put so much of themselves and their relationship onstage that the production transcends its fiction and reaches the level of the utterly personal, the utterly relevant, the utterly vulnerable. This is true of this audience more than any other because my bet is that everyone else watching, like me, was acquainted intimately with at least one of the performers. And we all knew the risks. And we all breathed in those risks as we watched and were as vulnerable in our own ways as the actors. And because it was and is successful, the risks of both the players and the watchers paid off – both with each other in a group and in our utterly personal ways.
And thus we collectively demonstrated the pure beauty and unique truth of the live theatrical experience.