The title of Conor McPherson's Rum & Vodka refers to the miracle tonic that apparently can snap one out of any drunken stupor immediately, if only temporarily. That wake up call is exactly what the man in the play, performed by Mike Alhadeff in the new production at the Ohio Theatre, needs. If the play itself isn't a wake up call, at times it is a nice jolt.
The concept of the play suggests the drama may be difficult to take seriously: A working class Irish man on a three day drinking binge explaining (or confessing, really) his problems to the only audience he can find? McPherson, though, avoids caricature and goes right for the gut making the central figure only 24 years old, a young man who thrust himself into adulthood (and fatherhood) before he was ready, and is now paying the price. The man's quest for fulfillment and a cure to the life he's found takes him into bars and clubs, and even the arms of another woman.
Because of some of the character's questionable choices, it's difficult to feel much for him. But Alhadeff does his best to make likable and even sympathetic, and achieves a great deal. It helps that Alhadeff is good looking, energetic, and vibrant - the character, in his hands, looks like someone who could easily have anything. Yet, emotionally, he has nothing and moves carelessly from one bottle (and woman) to the next. His actions betray his thoughts - he knows what he's doing wrong and can't (or won't) stop doing it. Rum & Vodka becomes, then, a study in how deep a hole one man can dig, and what it might take for him to get out of it. Even if not tremendously complex, on that level it works.
But Alhadeff's good performance and McPherson's uncompromising script aside, Rum & Vodka does tend toward the repetitive. With no set, director Samuel Bueggein's staging possibilities are limited, and after a while, the events of the play (even presented in as professional and thoughtful a manner as they are here by Alhadeff) blend together more than is probably ideal. That Rum & Vodka ends in a substantially different place from where it starts is a tribute to McPherson's skill, but there's little progression in the character from any given moment to the next. This makes watching the play and caring about what's going on slightly difficult.
But Alhadeff does what he can, and that's frequently enough. When he deals with the events of the play most succinctly and McPherson provides straightforward, unyielding drama for him to play, Rum & Vodka is appealing and entertaining.
Rum & Vodka