Glass half full
"Barman," based on the playwright's experiences as a bartender in New Jersey, goes a bit flat in the middle but offers some strong performances and has just enough kick at the end.
By JOSHUA TANZER
"Barman" is another Jersey jabber-thon from Alex Dawson, who also penned last year's excellent "Welcome to New Jersey." "Barman" has only a fraction of the other play's sharp-witted dialogue, but it starts well and ends well and features several strong performances.
The story is inspired by Dawson's experience as a bartender in New Brunswick, N.J., near Rutgers University which means the clientele must have been a potent mix of working-class suburbanites, pseudointellectual grad students, rich-kid goof-offs and black and Hispanic locals. We see or hear about all of the above in an anecdote-off that, at least initially, reveals something about the characters. The best moments are at the beginning when the old-timer Angelo (Peter J. Coriaty) is trying to regale a young college kid with a tale of two "tomatoes" who picked him up in their convertible in the old days a tale that the kid repeatedly interrupts with inane comments about blowjobs and his new Infiniti. Having gone to the same school with some of the same idiots, I appreciated this study in short attention spans.
|Company: Bon Bock.|
Written by: Alex Dawson.
Directed by: Jane Hardy.
Cast: Morgan Baker, Brendan Connor, Peter J. Coriaty, Alex Fry, Jake
Jordan, Joseph Pacillo, Amy Parlow, Joseph Prussak, Jonathan David Sang, Marvin W. Schwartz.
Related links: Official site
After a while, though, characters start coming into the bar just to recite a story and walk off, and the stories aren't very fully developed and don't do enough to describe the people telling them. They only add to the day-to-day sameness of the job for bartender-writer Jack (Jonathan David Sang), who narrowly holds the threads of the story together. A side plot about a campus rapist (he's the talk of the town and his wanted poster, which makes him look like Charles Bronson, is on the wall) is not forgotten but its possibilities are wasted.
The second act shifts forward two years and north seven exits. Now Jack is living in New York and celebrating the publication of his book "Barman" based on his experiences. He's invited all the old regulars up for the party, and after the obligatory congratulations, some long-stewing resentments start to emerge.
This second half of the play is more involving than the first because it's more about the characters and less a pastiche of unrelated anecdotes. We see Jack as both talented and flawed, pulled between the working-class bar clientele and the seasoned publishing crowd he now must cater to.
The acting in "Barman" is uneven, but the role of Jack is well handled by Jonathan David Sang with a mixture of forlornness and charm. Peter J. Coriaty is very good as the old-timer boasting about the man he used to be in the old days. Brendan Connor, a "Welcome to New Jersey" cast member, is fine but limited only by the smallness of his role. And Joseph Pacillo, also returning from "Welcome to New Jersey," is phenomenal again as one of the barflies, Mike. His characters are not necessarily terribly bright or self-aware but always powerful and in full command of the room. If I were casting, say, a cable series about a macho mob family in New Jersey, something like that, I'd give him a good look.
|MARCH 12, 2002|
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