DRYCLEAN: AN ADDICT’S STORY
nytheatre.com review by Tim Cusack
Ah, Ludlow Street, le
bouelvard des reves de la vie boheme. O’Neill had his flophouses and
bars of Downtown Manhattan and the West Village in which to look for
redemption in the desiccated faces of society’s rejects; Andrew Bauer
has this stretch of the Good Old Lower East Side. Once the domain of
alternative theatre makers and junkies (not necessarily mutually
exclusive categories), it’s now a playground for the young privileged
class. Bohemia is dead; long live its deloused simulacrum.
August 15, 2002
In some ways Dryclean: An Addict’s Story presents a mirror image of this process. It is rank, vomitus-encrusted existence transfigured into drama fit for the intellectual gentility. Like O’Neill, Bauer seems to be drawing on personal experience from the safe distance of years and sobriety for this phantasmagoric story of an addict’s last fix. And like the daddy of serious American drama, Bauer is attempting to illumine his lowlifes with mytho-poetic transcendence. Of course, part of the play’s point is you can’t create anything as an artist/addict unless you "kick." That the play exists at all in its present form would seem to be a testament to the truth of this axiom. The extent to which all of this works for you greatly depends on your relationship to the social processes alluded to above and your tolerance for a shot of sweetening spirituality being used to cut the acrid bite of reality.
Personally, I’m fine with this aesthetic strategy, as long as it doesn’t tip over into preciousness or pretension. Bauer’s play, thankfully, does neither, largely because of its narrative drive and the surprising amount of humor he distills from the situation. By keeping the play focused on the immediate narcotic need of his lead character Brendon (Jason Bauer) to score those final bags of the "white lady" before the arrival of the mysterious Sandman (the Iceman’s younger brother?), Bauer keeps the dramatic tension skillfully coiled. And by never letting us forget the dramatic consequences of the action—either Brandon will get enough drugs to ease his transition out of the city and into rehab or he will get enough drugs to obliterate himself—he also manages to invest us in its outcome. The humor comes largely courtesy of the ghost of Brandon’s deceased best friend Doberman (Richard Herron, in a play-stealing performance), a literally dopey, endearing fellow sent to Brandon with one last message from the great beyond.