A pint, a shot, a drama at The Abreact

By Donald V. Calamia

Anyone who's ever had the unfortunate experience of loving an alcoholic spouse, partner, parent, relative or close friend knows all-too well how "unfunny" alcoholism is - despite the many funny things the alcoholic says and does while under the influence of the demon brew.

It's a subject 35-year-old Irish playwright Conor McPherson often visits - and understands quite well. (He once nearly died from an alcohol-related organ shutdown.) "I'm interested in the toll that drinking takes and how sad it makes people," he recently told Village Voice.

That's surely the case with "Rum and Vodka," now playing at Detroit's coolest theater, The Abreact.

A 25-year-old Irishman, once living what he believed was the ideal life - an insatiable wife, two beautiful daughters, a respectable job and a mortgage - ponders the liquor-fueled events of the previous three days. Accused of being drunk on the job, the man begins his long weekend of bacchanal excess by tossing his MacIntosh through an office window and storming out the door. Not quite ready to face the music at home, he heads to the first of a long string of Dublin-area pubs where he eventually spots a 19-year-old woman he believes "could cure my world." That's the alcohol talking, of course, but where she leads him could be either the best thing that's ever happened to him or the worst.

The man's story is told as one long monologue. Written by McPherson at the age of 20, the script sheds considerable light on the thought processes of a man who is thoroughly controlled by booze. It offers no answers; instead, it focuses on both his honest candor and the many excuses he makes to explain away his behavior. "Nothing happening to me is my fault" he, like many alcoholics, protests.

But we don't believe him, thanks to the fine performance of Eric W. Maher and nuanced direction of Charles Reynolds.

Although Maher is - ahem - a little too old to portray a 25-year-old - even a grizzled one - that becomes moot only minutes into the production when it's clearly obvious that Maher fully grasps the character. This is a man who's not only hurt and torn by the events in his life, he's also aware of the biting humor and subtle ironies - both sides of which Maher convincingly plays with equal power. And his Irish brogue is almost flawless.

Reynolds' staging is subtle, perfectly paced and delivered with nary a dull moment.


'Rum and Vodka'

The Abreact, 442 E. Lafayette in the Greektown section of Detroit. Fri.-Sat., through March 17. Tickets: Free/donations accepted. For information: 313-247-5270 or http://www.theabreact.com

The Bottom Line: A funny, sad but riveting look at the life of a young alcoholic.

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