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"Love Drunk" at Abingdon Theatre Company's Dorothy Strelsin Theatre

- Backstage with the Playwrights

Love Drunk
Abingdon Theatre Company
Dorothy Strelsin Theatre

By Romulus Linney

At the
Abingdon Theatre Company
312 West 36th Street
Artistic Director: Jan Buttram

Based on Ibsen's The Masterbuilder

Austin Pendleton as Wilbur Johnson
Kristina Valada-Viars as Karen Bannerman

Directed by Kelly Morgan

Set Design: Jeff Pajer
Lighting Design: Travis McHale
Costume Designer: Deborah Caney
Sound Designer: Kevin Lloyd
Stage Managers: Caitlin Ferreira, Mark Wallace
Casting Director: William Schill
Associate Artistic Director: Kim T. Sharp
Press: Shirley Herz Associates
Director of Marketing: Doug DeVita

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
April 2, 2009

Love Drunk, with Austin Pendleton and Kristina Valada-Viars, is an unsettling one-act play about 60-something Wilbur Johnson and 20-something Karen Bannerman, who meet in an Appalachian bar, late one night, and return to Wilburís log cabin for what Wilbur assumed would be a casual night together in bed, followed by lonely peace when itís over. In contrast to Wilburís seasoned expectations, Karen creates some twists and surprises, some pleasant, some vicious, and none anticipated. This was one one-night stand gone awry. Wilburís character is predictable, a Northeastern intellectual, a successful architect, a middle-aged loner, who uses the local bar for camaraderie and comfort, that is, comfort back at his cabin. Karenís character is unpredictable, an outsider, a vagabond, an intruder, who uses mind games to trap her own seducer, morphing from prey to predator, turning sex to indignation, all the while bringing the outside storm inside, as Wilbur grasps onto his wiles to cope.

A slow and easy mood suddenly startles and scares, not only the audience, sitting tightly, almost onto the small interior, boxed stage, but also Wilbur, who planned on some drinks and seduction to have his way in his wilderness camp. Both characters become more and more unpleasant, re-creating, for each other, stories of morbid curiosity and graphic detail. Their conversation enables them to circle each other, as predator and prey, switching these roles throughout the one hour-plus production. At one point they disappear into the bedroom; at a later point, Karen is potentially violent again, never satisfied, thirsty for control; at another point Wilbur is willing to accept tension and danger as a way of life, just for the youthful drifter to remain in his space. This psychologically unfolding drama rivets but does not resolve. The unease develops into deeper mysteries, as the characters evolve into strangers within strangers.

Tad Janes and Heather Rager created some original songs that play from a scratchy stage recording, and Kevin Lloydís weather-surrounding sound design adds to the disquieting dread in the ambiance. Jeff Pajer constructed the outline of the Appalachian cabin, and Travis McHale shifts the lighting from dim to dark. Romulus Linney, playwright, has created a jittery, discordant play, that mostly works with these compelling actors. Kelly Morgan has directed it for maximum angst. Mr. Pendleton could be toned down in neediness, and Ms. Valada-Viars could be toned down in roughness. The play is persuasive on its own.

Kristina Valada-Viars and Austin Pendleton in "Love Drunk"
Courtesy of Kim T. Sharp

Kristina Valada-Viars and Austin Pendleton in "Love Drunk"
Courtesy of Kim T. Sharp

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For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at