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Days of Wine and Roses

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray

Alcohol-fueled dramas are familiar staples of television, film, and theatre, and with Boomerang Theatre Company's help, J.P. Miller's Days of Wine and Roses has covered all three. It's easy to see why this story - which moved from TV's Playhouse 90 in 1958 with Cliff Robertson and Piper Laurie and film in 1962 with Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick - so attracts people: its intimate, yet large-seeming story of a man and a woman who battle alcoholism and each other through married life. Ideal for the stage, right?

Well, maybe. The Boomerang production is, at best, a step in the right direction. And while the emotional and dramatic simplicity that drive the show are never lost, director Rachel Wood is never completely successful at finding the form of the show outside of the editing room. Its narrative isn't continuous or fluid, leaping back and forth in time and location, something TV and film can handle instantaneously. Here, the same stack of scenes feels choppy and sloppy, Wood not having applied a creative-enough theatrical equivalent.

And if the unusually wide and narrow shape of Walkerspace, the show's current venue, occasionally tends to distance the audience from the action, Wood has at least found a way to make it for her. With the help of set designer Harlan Penn's circle of platforms around a depressed central playing space, she always has plenty of room for creating new playing spaces for her actors, if never easy ways to move lots of people in and out, and Scott Davis's tightly focused lights help her focus on characters and moments fairly astutely without the help of an outright close-up.

Her performers do well enough, too, though few give particularly polished performances. But that works for the format of Miller's script, for the most part an Alcoholics Anonymous-inspired flashback that chronicles a decade or so in the relationship of Joe (Mac Brydon) and Kirsten (Laura Siner), who help each other to become alcoholics and must choose whether to stand by each other - or not - as the thousands of dollars they drink away and the friends and family they alienate threaten to tear them apart.

While Days of Wine and Roses is certainly an effective warning tale about the dangers of alcoholism, it works dramatically for the same reason all great stories like this do: the central characters' relationships are made the foundation. With Wood's help, Brydon and Siner have formed a bond so strong as Joe and Kirsten that it seems like they're both at the center of the action, even when they're not. You can almost feel Brydon's eyes boring into Siner as Kirsten begs a neighbor for vanilla extract, for example; their work is really that connected, and bringing out those vital aspects of the character's almost makes Wood's staging problems seem irrelevant.

Of the remaining performers, Paul Schnee as the mild-mannered head of Joe's AA chapter and Wally Carroll as Kirsten's concerned father come off the best, reading as seconds in Brydon and Siner's ongoing duel of wills and bottles. Everyone else basically seems to have been directed to stay out of the way, and they more or less succeed; Brydon and Siner always have plenty of room to maneuver, if not always get offstage quickly and conveniently afterwards.

But when this script hits, it hits hard. The downward spiral of Joe and Kirsten's affair leads to a simple but important conclusion, the final moment of which - a single line spoken in a white spotlight on an otherwise dark stage - is a haunting one of love, hope, and resignation. It's the most honest and purely theatrical moment of the evening, and it comes across so well that it's impossible not to wish that Wood had found a way to set the others present in this Days of Wine and Roses free.

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Boomerang Theatre Company
Days of Wine and Roses
Through October 18
Running Time: 1 hour 40 minutes with one 15-minute intermission
Walker Space, 46 Walker Street
Schedule and Tickets: 212.501.4069