nytheatre.com review by Allison Taylor
July 15, 2007
Who, besides Eugene O'Neill perhaps, knew that a pathetic drunk of a father could be so likeable? Thomas Poarch in the drama Monroe Bound, currently playing in the LGBT-themed Fresh Fruit Festival, renders a stereotypical Southern-alcoholic-redneck into a captivating and vulnerable man. As Alvin Monroe, Poarch shuffles about the stage as if he were lost, too disoriented by his agonizing memories to know where to step next. When he declares his modest ambitions—he'd like to get a dog—he exposes himself not as a do-nothing deadbeat, but as a guy who just wants a little companionship. And every time he sees his daughter Lexington, gracefully played by Hannah Flint, the tense lines on Poarch's face soften and his beaming smile reveals how unabashedly he adores his child.
His steadily enjoyable performance, as directed by Anthony C. E. Nelson, was enough to make my face brighten too, as Monroe Bound is a slow-paced mishmash of stories that could have used a little streamlining. In this loving father-daughter relationship, Alvin and Lexington each guiltily keeps a secret from the other. Lexington, a bisexual, has not come out to her father. While working in an über-trendy restaurant in the East Village, she begins dating the fascinating photographer Pace, charismatically played by Liz Bangs. Meanwhile, Alvin has been lying to Lexington about her absent mother. It turns out that she did not die in a car crash, as Lexington has grown up believing, but selfishly abandoned her newborn baby and husband.
This is a nice premise for a play, and indeed, the scenes between Alvin and Lexington are the most dramatically compelling. Poarch and Flint convey an easy affection for each other while still tapping into an undercurrent of anxiety. What's more, playwright Lucile Scott draws a lovely parallel between Lexington's tendency towards self-destructive behavior (she quickly acclimates herself to the East Village scene with a steady pill-popping addiction) and Alvin's uncontrollable alcoholism.
But Scott fails to capitalize upon the conflict that she has set up. Rather than focus on the risk of these secrets being revealed, and the detrimental consequences that might follow, Scott crowds the storyline with numerous flashbacks from Alvin's life. Alvin's memories—mainly of his hot-and-cold romantic relationship with a prostitute—may indicate his regrets and insecurities, but they bear little relevance to the main conflict. Alvin's demons might have been more interesting if he were actively exorcising them, as opposed to consistently reflecting on them.
However, the bulk of the action is taken up by the hesitant romance between Lexington and Pace. Flint and Bangs generate real sexual tension in their flirtatious exchanges. When Bangs playfully smacks Flint's arm as she leaves her crush, you can't help but be charmed by their preciously awkward interactions. But regardless of the actresses' talent, we still don't get a sense that anything is at stake for Lexington and Pace. What is lost or gained if they get together or never do? Because the characters are so thinly-drawn, and their conversations are so insignificant and conversational, it's never apparent why the two women might truly need each other.
It did not help that Saturday night's performance included numerous technical snafus, the most distracting being the house lights that remained on through the show's first 15 minutes. But even if perfect technical execution accompanied the good performances by the three leads, nothing could change the fact that not a whole lot happens in Monroe Bound.