Written and directed by David Epstein
Manhattan Theatre Source
177 MacDougal Street
Writer/director David Epsteins engrossing new play, Drinking and Diving, showcases the warm and vibrant actors of the Invisible City Theatre Company (David Epstein and Elizabeth Horn, co-artistic directors). Going beyond his last play, Strange Attractions, Epstein explores the mutable relations of parent, sibling, and child. He inspects their semblance, through issues of abandonment and success, sudden connections among strangers, and spaces of disconnectiona lonely bar and the edge of the Eiffel Tower.
In the first act, a young woman (Maggie Bell) sits down at a table next to a middle aged man (Dan Patrick Brady). Sassy, inquisitive, ("I cant harness my words before they leap") slightly hyper, and hurting inside, she draws out the mans deepest sinful secret. Twenty years ago, he abandoned his wife and young daughter Daisy. Initially prickly and cynical, he eventually pours out his story with the weeping, nostalgic emotion of an alcoholic.
The young woman has a converse sense of guilt. She was at work when her father died and didn't get to say goodbye ("His heart. Too much red meat. Not enough fish."). Together, they play at being Daisy and Dad. The young woman fulfills her longing, but the man never can.
In the loosely connected second act, the womans younger brother, an almost gold medal winning Olympic diver (Matt Mundy), pouts and contemplates suicide because he "failed to rise to his own occasion." Daisy (Elizabeth Horn), now a psychological counselor, talks him down. She alternates between taunting him, "Its those with the most promise that stand on the outside of the barricade," guilt tripping him (If he jumps, shell have no more career advancement) and finally she offers to join him, telling him more about her life than he reveals of his own.
A mere synopsis does not do justice to Epsteins genius. Empty bars and suicide jumping spots are hardly innovative dramatic venues. Yet Epstein invigorates them on a virtually bare set (a small platform, a pole, and a cube are the Eiffel tower). Through both creating and directing, he brings forth well rounded characters, who speak in snappy but realistic ways, and who are the equals of one another.
Patrick Dan Brady is believable from skepticism to tears. Matt Mundy is beautiful as the sulking spoiled young man who suddenly discovers reality. Maggie Bell is magnetic as the slightly zany woman trying on other lives. Elizabeth Horn is magnificent as the mothering savior with a chip on her shoulder.
Yet, I caution the ICTC artistic directors. Maggie Bell as pseudo-Daisy is much like Lina of Strange Attractions, and Elizabeth Horn, as Daisy, is much like Sam in the same play. In a small company, where the plays are written for and with the actors, there is a danger of exploiting everybodys best persona, especially when success comes with what works. It's important to avoid the cramps and kinks that can occur in such a situation by properly stretching every muscle. In Drinking and Diving, Epstein proves that under his direction, the players' performance can not only be entertaining and enrapturing, but also educational and enlightening.