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The Devil Winks

Theatre Review by Warren Hoffman

If you think that heroin junkies, bisexual artists, and angry hippie poets could make for a interesting evening of theater, think again. David Sirk's excruciatingly dull solo show The Devil Winks, a look at life in Alphabet City in the 1980s, now at the Creative Place Theater, is so boring that it makes the laughable street figures from the recent Broadway disaster Brooklyn seem interesting by comparison. Sirk's play is a hodgepodge of drug-themed anecdotes and portraits of eccentric characters that lasts, including intermission, an interminable 2 hours and 15 minutes. Unfocused and unengaging, The Devil Winks is in dire need of structure and editing, not to mention a shot of adrenaline to awaken it from its dramatic stupor.

One might think that the pre-gentrified East Village would be the source of outrageous material for a play (it worked for Rent), but Sirk's presentation is unusually reserved and distractingly disjointed. Though he might be recounting episodes from his own life, Sirk seems particularly disinterested in the stories he tells. His lackadaisical and monotonous style of delivery kept making my mind wander, and I actually found myself more interested in the sound of the jackhammers working away outside the theater than in anything happening on stage. Sirk seems blasé and jaded about his time in Alphabet City, and if he doesn't really care or, for that matter, at least feign excitement, why should we? Oddly enough, it is only when Sirk impersonates a variety of other characters including Philippe, a French bisexual painter, the Pope of Dope, a drugged-out East Village "guru," and David Life, owner of the Life Café, that the audience gets even the smallest taste of characters who are the least bit engaging and distinctive.

But characters alone do not a play make. It doesn't help that the show lacks a plot or conflict of any sort. Instead, the tedious play rambles from one story of drug use and drinking to the next, never developing into a coherent whole. Indeed, the monologues could be rearranged in virtually any order without making any difference to the current structure of the work. As it now plays, The Devil Winks requires drastic editing as Sirk's superficial tales of his life as a privileged white resident of the Alphabet City neighborhood frequently stretch on without direction or reason.

At one moment in the show, Sirk gives us a look into the ubiquitous poetry readings that once defined the East Village. He presents us, though, with not one, not two, but six examples of "wacky" poets who inhabit the Life Café, and after impersonating his third poet, the bit quickly grows old and tiresome. The show is further hindered by its lack of direction, a particular irony considering that the play has direction by both Sirk and co-director Judy Baird. Despite this dual input, the piece feels unstaged and haphazard as if Sirk were making the work up as he goes along. The play jerks, sputters, pauses, and runs into multiple dead spots, entirely lacking in flow, structure, or design.

Did I mention that there are songs in the show? Despite the fact that Sirk sings to a prerecorded tape, his use of the microphone obscures almost all of his lyrics, turning his songs, which musically are quite unpleasant to listen to and even involve banging on a trash can at one point, into incomprehensible nonsense. Suffice it to say the songs do little to flesh out the play's anemic anecdotes and, if anything, just make the play's proceedings even more embarrassing.

The Devil Winks never really reveals the grittiness of the East Village; instead Sirk seemingly positions himself as a detached observer, resulting in play that runs cool rather than hot. On opening night, the show experienced some technical difficulties with the lighting for which Sirk apologized. Such glitches are of course forgivable and understandable, but improved lighting could in no way make up for the tediousness of writing, acting, and directing in this eminently forgettable work.

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Creative Place Theatre
The Devil Winks
Through November 28
Creative Place Theatre, 750 8th Avenue, #602, between 46th and 47th Streets
Schedule and Tickets: 212.576.8855