I was in my early 20s, NYPD Blue was breaking all sorts of rules and watching it was absolutely necessary, especially if you lived in New York. Making fun of it was necessary too – and we did. ”Drink every time David Caruso says ‘come here’ and hugs someone” was the first drinking game I remember hearing that mixed liquor and entertainment. I played the game. I got drunk as David Caruso hugged people.
So, when I heard that StrangeDog Theatre was doing a show where you “Step one: Come See The Show. Step two: Choose a Character. Step three: When the Character Drinks, So Do You.” I was in.
Here’s what I expected: a lot of drinking. A lot of random chit-chat on stage peppered with a lot of drinking, encouraging the audience to drink along in an effort to make their show experience seem better than it really was. Here’s what I got: an enormously well-written well acted, well directed play so full of laughs, heart, and surprises that the drinking-game part became secondary. Yes, you heard me right. The thing that had me most excited was actually overshadowed by a terrific night of theatre.
Initially the fun of The Virilogy is three fold: first, there’s the simple Simon-says aspect. You’ve picked your character and for the first scene you’re glued to him. Will he drink? Wait … did that count? Oh, damn … I got wrapped up in the story and forgot to drink! Is this like Mother May I? Is there a penalty here? Nah, don’t sweat it. No one’s watching. Oh, wait … that’s the second fun aspect of the show … Under St. Marks Theatre is just small enough that, positioned correctly, you are keenly aware of whom your fellow audience members are choosing to follow. Suddenly you’re watch to make sure so-and-so drinks when their character does. But then there’s the third aspect, and by the final act it’s the aspect which has pretty much paced the drinking game: the pure fun of this amazing show. By the time the third act rolls around I’ll venture to say some people weren’t even drinking anymore and were just enjoying this unfolding friendship. Remarkable.
Written By Ben Clawson and directed by Artem Yatsunov The Virilogy follows three friends through three stages of their lives – each stage putting one of them front and center as they deal with a love interest.
The first act entitled Virilia stars Alejandro Hernandez as Quinn who shows up to Stu’s home (David Murgittroyd) in complete devastation over the breakup with his girlfriend. In this simple but brilliant beginning Clawson and Yatsunov reveal that -done right- nothing is funnier than mining a heartbroken man for comedy. While Quinn falls apart Stu and Brian (Scott Cagney) decide to ignore it (“Was he crying?” “His face was wet. I chose not to investigate why”) and “do what men do” (“I bought you this beer. I want you to drink it. It’s how we help”). However, they can only ignore so much as they begin to notice Quinn is wearing Michelle’s sweatshirt and even worse … her perfume (“It’s like a nicotine patch for my nose …”). Stu and Brian’s reaction to Quinn’s depression is brutal, but his reaction to now being just one of them again winds up being the most crushing blow of all.
Intermission. Buy more drinks. The game’s not over!
When we next catch up with the guys it’s obvious some years have passed – though not many. They’re just grown up enough now to wear ties to work and cook for their girlfriends, but they’re still up to the same shenanigans. Virility centers on Brian’s breakup this time, only this one is a whole different animal. Stu and Quinn have hated Brian’s girlfriend Lindsay with such a vengeance that they have made up songs about her which they sing every time she leaves the room. They’ve invested exorbitant time and money creating a huge chart they can use as a presentation as to why she is bad – not only for Brian … but bad in general. The screwball reasons coupled with the pair’s antics (including stabbing a cantaloupe head in effigy) were so deeply disturbing yet hilarious that I’m not sure anything could have made it funnier. And while it seemed outlandish there was a foundation of truth that I think everyone in the audience could respond to – who HASN’T had a dear friendship threatened by a significant other who was simply intolerable? Stu and Quinn’s roadshow is something we’d all do if we had a great piece of poster board to build on.
Second intermission. Last chance to get your drinks!
The final act – Visectomy - is a perfect nightcap to this show. After the hilarity of the first two acts this is where everyone drives it home. Clawson flips the script and shows his ability to delve into the more serious side of male bonding writing a scene that is as real, visceral and raw as the other two were side-splitting and hilarious. The three men now show their adult sides … again, while it’s impossible to gauge how much time has passed there’s talk of wives, children, actual jobs. Murgittroyd, Cagney and Hernandez all now have the body language of older men, they have adult swagger, they have a world-weary bent in their posture. As these three friends come together on what would have been Stu’s wedding day, the drink of choice is no longer beer but something stronger. They do what they’ve done for their entire friendship – they stand together and support each other, only this time despite the jokes, there’s an undertone of seriousness, sometimes of regret, sometimes of thankfulness. More is at stake, and as they reflect on what has been they see their mistakes, their moments of regret, but also their strong friendship which has gotten them through. By the end of this show all three men have grown up and the drinking game has become a toast, not only to the characters, but to the incredible team that brought this show to life.
I’m not sure if The Virology started out as a drinking game. It sure works as one – there’s a lot of drinking going on, and it’s nice to sit in an audience and bond with your guy, drink when he drinks, and feel yourself getting a little tipsy in an “I love you guys” way by the end. But does this show work without the drinking? Absolutely. It works on every level. I left feeling as if I’d watched a real friendship unfold.
Though StrangeDog Theatre Company are based in New Jersey I want them to come back to Horse Trade as often as possible. I can’t wait to see more of what they have on tap.
~~~STRANGEDOG THEATRE COMPANY’S THE VIRILOGY: A DRINKING GAME WRITTEN BY BEN CLAWSON DIRECTED BY ARTEM YATSUNOV July 5-14 UNDER St. Marks 94 St. Marks Place (between 1st Ave and Ave A) Thursday through Saturday at 8pm.
Tickets ($18, including 1 free beer) are available online at www.horseTRADE.info or by calling Smarttix at 212-868-4444.