HFCC’s ‘Drinking in America’ is edgy, well-performed adult production

Photo courtesy of Dearborn Area Theatre Association
Cory Chambless (left) as Roderick and Jillian Drapala as Ellen rehearse “The Ballad of 423 and 424” in the Dearborn Area Theatre Association’s “Random Acts of Theatre.” Performances are scheduled for 8 p.m. Sept. 6 and 7 at the Ford Community & Performing Arts Center in Dearborn.

Eric Bogosian’s, “Drinking in America,” directed by Mary Bremer-Beer of Warren at Henry Ford Community College through the end of August is an edgy and well-acted collection of adult monologues delivered by characters who use their drugs of choice to convince themselves that their personal delusions are real.

The show runs weekends through Aug. 31, with 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday shows and 2 p.m. Sunday. General admission is $15, with $12 tickets for students, faculty and staff. To purchase tickets online, go to http://theater.hfcc.edu.

The show contains profanity and adult themes, including extensive sexual and drug references. A parent or adult guardian must accompany minors.

The audience, seated intimately on the stage of Adray Auditorium in the MacKenzie Fine Arts Center, has a close up view of a working class bar and the street outside in an urban area as characters reveal their heartfelt stories through monologues interspersed by popular culture songs reflecting the mood of the play.

While the monologue were written for men, Bremer-Beer has taken advantage of some of the more gender-neutral roles to allow some of the women in the cast to stretch themselves in the challenging roles of humans on chemically self-destructive paths.

Musical director David Alexander of Redford doubles as the bar’s piano player, interacting with the cast and delivering two solos, “Nobody Knows You” and “Mercy, Mercy Me,” as well as a duet, “Frankie and Johnny” with chanteuse Judy Fletcher of Birmingham, who also treats the house to a nostalgic solo rendition of “Smile.”

Other memorable musical numbers include Jude Manko of Dearborn’s rendition of “Fever,” James Pappas of Wyandotte’s “Let’s Misbehave,” Pappas and Matt Mayes of Trenton’s duet “Sunnyside of the Street” and Mariah Johnson of Warren’s “Blues in the Night,” with the cast bringing a heartfelt “Lean on Me” to their curtain call.

While the songs provide transitions to tie the stories together, it is the monologues themselves that provide the vehicles that allow the college-age actors to deliver the characters’ stories.

Bremer-Beer guided a cast whose monologues are fast-paced and energetic, with delivery that pushes the young actors outside their comfort zones and challenges them to reach new levels in their craft.

Zach Ross of Dearborn opens the show with “Our Gang,” a well-delivered tale of a Quaalude, booze and pot-fueled road trip that takes as many twists and turns as he and his imaginary cronies did on an illicit chemically fueled journey.

Ahmad Sammas of Dearborn follows as a frazzled bar owner in “The Melting Pot,” whose life seems as futile and burned out as his hapless french fries.

Pappas plays a superficial yuppie with a materialistically full but emotionally empty life in “Blow,” followed by Mayes’ “Candy,” the tale of a transvestite who earns a living as a phone sex operator, feeding the secret guilty pleasures of others’ illicit needs.

Joshua Neilson of Inkster closes the set of Act I monologues with “Blow,” the tale of a tired Puerto Rico immigrant with limited ambition and prospects barely managing to exist.

Act II follows with further monologues of chemically fueled delusions and broken dreams.

Richard Summersett Jr. of Detroit plays a homeless man in “American Dreamer” who has little more than his street-side bench, ragged clothes and fantasies from his daily drugs. Stefanie Mullen of Dearborn portrays an equally delusional drug addict in “Godhead.”

In “The Law” Ross reappears, turning in a strong, powerful performance as a hateful, racist law enforcer who directs his self-loathing onto others in a prejudicial blame game that conveniently allows his character to avoid taking any responsibility for his own life’s choices.

Manko turns her plentiful energy and quirky charm into a fast-paced performance of “Dirt” as an addled and rattled would-be crusader who mixes concern for the environment with personal phobias fueled by animal defecation and human waste creation, which her character believes defiles and overwhelms the earth’s ecosystem.

The stories conclude with Maurice Phillips of Detroit’s delivery of his character’s engrossing tale of a bumpy survival in “Grace of God.”

Bogosian’s powerful monologues challenge each actor in the company. The hard-working cast proves up to the challenge, and the audience is close enough to the action that the characters and their psychic pain seem all the more real, providing powerful performances for an adult audience.

Maddie Kaplan, a freshman at Divine Child High School and Maria Viscomi, a freshman at Dearborn High School, who are both active in local community theater, spent a week in Stratford, Ontario, Canada, this summer as participants in a weeklong Stratford Festival Shakespeare School.

As members of the Queen’s Company, designed for eighth- and ninth-graders, they spent a busy week July 28 to Aug. 3 focusing on acting, Shakespearean text, voice and movement taught through classes, workshops, discussion, rehearsal and attendance at four professional Stratford productions.

Kaplan said they saw Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice” and “Romeo and Juliet,” as well as The Who’s “Tommy” and Peter Raby’s adaptation of Alexandre Dumas’ “The Three Musketeers.”

The competitive application process included essay questions and required three recommendations.

Kaplan said she learned a lot about auditioning, as well as how to read and speak Shakespearean works. She also honed her onstage partnering skills, and learned the importance of concentration in scenes on stage.

“The most valuable things I learned were concentration is (the) key for a successful performance and how important the first step through a door can be for a successful audition,” Kaplan said.

She said they also enjoyed a backstage tour of Stratford’s Festival Theatre.

The weeklong camp culminated in a workshop performance of selections from “King Lear,” with Kaplan playing Cordelia, Lear’s youngest daughter, and Viscomi playing the Earl of Gloucester and Oswald, a servant.

Kaplan said she and Viscomi, who have acted together in Dearborn community theater productions in the past, roomed together and became closer friends.

She recommends the weeklong camp to other aspiring thespians.

For more information, go to www.stratfordfestival.ca/education/students.aspx?id=76.

The Dearborn Area Theatre Association in partnership with the city of Dearborn and the Dearborn Community Fund presents “Random Acts of Theatre” at 8 p.m. Sept. 6 and 7 in the Ford Community & Performing Arts Center in Dearborn.

Audiences, seated on stage to enhance viewing intimacy, will view a show with four main genres of scenes: comedy, drama, musical and reader’s theater, according to Leslie Herrick, program manager of the Dearborn Community Fund.

For more information, call 313-943-2354 or go to www.dearborntheater.com.