Feb. 20, 2013 - Issue #905: DOA No more - Trading in punk for politics
Days of Wine and Roses
There's a moment that comes midway through Days of Wine and Roses' doomy downward spiral, that finds Donal (Cody Porter) and Mona (Elena Porter) awakening from a two-bottle bender in their living room.
It comes after they'd both sworn off drink for the sake of his job, suckered by the idea of a celebratory toast that quickly became multiple drinks, then a pair of full bottles of hard liquor. And what emerges as they awaken, aside from the hangovers written across both faces, is an ugly air of accepted resignation: they don't seem angry with themselves, or care much that they've fallen back in on their shared addiction to alcohol. Nothing seems to matter but another drink—especially not each other.
To rewind from that: we meet Donal and Mona as they meet each other, waiting for a plane out of Belfast, destination London, new lives on the horizon: hers to escape the humdrum existence she was worried about facing, his to start working at a horse track. It's the '60s; they talk about the recent trip to the moon, and it's perhaps the most charmed meeting between two soon-to-be-doomed souls you're likely to get, made more potent by the downward trajectory we see them start to take almost immediately afterwards. Owen McCafferty's Irish spin on JP Miller's teleplay gives us a pair of likeable people that get battered almost beyond recognition by the bottle. We later play fly-on-the-wall to some very ugly moments of domestic violence between the two (fight choreographer: Janine Waddell Hodder) as they attempt to get clean and save or damn each other, depending on who's drunk.
It's an effective showcase of the pitfalls of alcoholism, though the script, playing out by design in one-on-one scenes, does suffer from lag in the middle, once we know where it's going but still only inch our way there. It's a cautionary tale that definitely plays like one, to its detriment. But where director Amy DeFelice's production succeeds in navigating that slow wind is thanks to its well-cast pair of actors.
The script gives plenty of reasons that might drive Donal and Mona to drink: his job involves copious amounts of social drinking while she waits, bored at home alone, waiting for him to come home and have a drink. Victories at the horse track mean celebratory parties at the house. All well and good for drama on the page, but it's how both actors skillfully navigate these scenes that give them potency: past their first meeting and early honeymoon bliss, any time spent in sobriety seems just a little tense, their two personalities brought together by fate and impulse, but far from a perfect match: Cody's Donal is a bit too dry, matter-of-fact and narrowly focused, while Elena's Mona is more an impulsive spirit, constantly craving stimulation. They're both likeable, but for different reasons that don't necessarily connect, and here alcohol sands down their edges, makes them more palatable to each other. In married life, you see the ways they grate on each other; even when they aren't drinking, thanks to the performances, they seem to find little ways to drive each other to want to drink.
It all plays out on a lovely retro-wallpaper set and effective lighting design that helps transition with minimal movement. Wine and Roses is a dark script, though not all of it's alcoholic gloom—scenes pivot, especially early on, between humour and levity and tension, all three simmering up and and down until, eventually, the latter inevitably breaks into boil. Scene transitions are set to '60s songs, and the actors dance their way through as they rearrange the set as necessary. It's a particularly effective choice, actually: as things start to slip off into the deep end, these little in-between moments remind us of how things could've gone in a happier story. It makes the downward spiral they're on more effective.
Until Sat, Feb 23 (7:30 pm; 2 pm Saturday matinee)
Directed by Amy DeFelice
Varscona Theatre, $19.75 – $23.75
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