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A CurtainUp Review
Drunk Enough To Say I Love You?

Yes, But Not Too Drunk To Cross The Pond

Samuel West and Scott Cohen
S. West and S. Cohen (Photo: Joan Marcus)

It's a fairly common occurence that we are called upon to review a show that originated in London, and has arrived in New York (or vice versa), and it is quite typical in these situations that the review considers how well the material travelled. Caryl Churchill's new play, which Lizzie Loveridge reviewed below in late 2006, presents its own, less usual, situation since Ms. Churchill has seemingly -- it is not her style to be explicit -- written a play featuring the United States. Not as a setting, but as one of its two characters.

In the UK, the play might have been seen as a political critique. (Trust me, it offers plenty within its laundry list of offenses.) Here, however, it seems to me it functions slightly differently, holding up a particularly unflattering mirror, and bringing to mind that classic Oliver Hardy line, "another fine mess you got me into."

When performed at the Royal Court, as Lizzie explains, one character was named "Sam" (as in Uncle) and the other was named "Jack" (as in Union), leading her (and others) to conclude that Drunk Enough is a play about the relationship of the US and the UK, and maybe even about Bush and Blair. Whether to avoid such explicit assumptions (or perhaps just to celebrate the change of government of her side of the pond), Sam, we are now told, is "a country," while Jack has become "Guy," who is described merely as "a man".

Notwithstanding the labels, I am here to advise you that what Ms. Churchill has managed to do is compress the entire history of the British-American relationship, from the Revolutionary War to the present, including a fair proportion of the points in between, into a 45 minute play about two men, one of whom (Guy, portrayed by Samuel West) leaves his wife and family for the other (Sam, played by Scott Cohen). It's a pretty nifty trick; few playwrights could pull it off, but Churchill can and does. To the old sayings, "All's fair in love and war," and "love is war," she now appends the query, is war love?

But for the change mentioned above, the play is as described in the review below, which I will not repeat. Cohen and West are quite good (West, the more adept of the two with Churchill's inchoate dialogue), and the short play breezes by even faster than the 45 minutes would suggest. Lest you be concerned how you will spend the rest of your evening, fear not. Once the ingenuity of Churchill's metaphor sinks in and starts to wear off, the prickliness of her politics will fuel more than sufficient debate to occupy your attention until the time at which some other, longer show would have let out. And isn't that what we want theater to do?

Credits are same as in original review below, except as noted here:
with Scott Cohen and Samuel West
Costume Design: Susan Hilferty
Sound Design: Daniel Erdberg
Public Theater (Newman), 425 Lafayette (Astor Pl/E. 4th St)
Telephone (212) 967-7555
Opening March 16, 2008, closes April 6, 2008
TUES and SUN @7, WED - SAT @8, SAT @2, SUN @3; $50, students $25, rush $20 (1 hour prior to curtain, cash only)
Reviewed by Les Gutman based on 3/14/08 performance

A CurtainUp London London Review
Drunk Enough To Say I Love You?

we have it, we like it and we're going to keep it
---- Sam talking about space
Caryl Churchill's plays are exciting because she experiments with form and meaning. In Drunk Enough To Say I Love You? two men, one British and one American conduct a love affair. But what turns them on is not their sexuality but the game of world domination. This is the ultimate game for the workaholic.

Not one of those computer simulations when you can play at control but a real political game where you can overthrow governments and manipulate elections and destabilise economies. You have the resources of the largest and richest country in the world and you can choose your friends and eliminate your enemies. And with all this power you are not alone, you have a soulmate who gets excited by the possibilities. You fire each other up with your ideas and together you develop your vision for world control. You describe torture and bombings and it arouses you. And then you spin the events so that people will like you.

In this relationship, as in any relationship there is a personal balance of power. One person is more dependent on the other. "Jack (Stephen Dillane) would do anything for Sam. Sam (Ty Burrell) would do anything." The play opens with Jack taking the big step of leaving his wife and children to go to live with Sam in America. What Churchill does is to cleverly weave into the dialogue the work, the political manipulation on a global scale and the intimate shifts in the relationship between the two men, the discussions on who is controlling and who won't commit and who can't display true intimacy. Together they form remarkable and powerful theatre and the play makes an important political point without rhetoric or polemic.

Sam appears the least secure, constantly looking for reassurance. Jack vacillates in a dithering kind of British stereotypical way; he turns his wedding ring on his finger as he discusses his relationship with Sam. The characterisation in Caryl Churchill's writing is there in a few words. She has written the play like blank verse, short soundbites of dialogue and all the more effective for the economy of the script. In the hands of two excellent and deeply internalising actors such as Stephen Dillane and Ty Burrell, Churchill's plays flows and is absolutely credible. They giggle together in the first flush of love and intimacy and later bicker. Dillane holds the cigarette half way down his fingers in a studied and self conscious way while Sam complains about passive smoking. The words are very shocking and also very sexual in the same way as those violent films like Natural Born Killers and David Cronenburg's Crash juxtapose violence and sex.

The set is a sofa which rises like a flying carpet surrounded by the totally black stage framed by a proscenium square of light bulbs like those round the mirror in a dressing room. The guys sit cross legged on the sofa as they talk about all this violence and killing with smug smiles. The set emphasises the isolation of these two men, their world which is intruded neither by other people nor by the morality of other lesser powers.

At one level Sam is Uncle Sam and Jack is the Union Jack. Who are thse men really? Are they Bush and Blair? Is their political relationship a kind of love affair immune to the censorship of the international community? You decide but don't miss the opportunity to see Drunk Enough To Say I Love You?. This is the best value three quarters of an hour in London theatre this season.

Written by Caryl Churchill
Directed by James Macdonald

Starring: Stephen Dillane and Ty Burrell
Set Design: Eugene Lee
Costume Design: Joan Wadge
Lighting: Peter Mumford
Sound: Ian Dickinson
Music: Matthew Herbert
Running time: 45 minutes with no interval
Presented in association with the Public Theatre New York
Box Office: 020 7565 5000
Booking to 22 December 2006
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 1st December 2006 performance at the Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Downstairs, Sloane Square, London SW1 (Tube: Sloane Square)

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