To drink or not to drink? ’Tiny Bubbles’ asks the question
Take one part codependent friendship, one part two-fisted drinking habit and stir. Now shake things up by adding a liberal pinch of sobriety to the mix, and you have the makings of a sassy little cocktail called "Tiny Bubbles."
Playwright Richard Willett’s contemplative comedy concerns the evolving dynamic between two longtime platonic gay roommates-and drinking buddies-whose lives suddenly veer off into different, and uncharted, directions.
When rational and grounded Kirk joins Alcoholics Anonymous, high-flying Danny sorts out his abandonment issues by retreating into two dream worlds. In one, he’s a boozy "Mad Men"-like executive prone to three-martini lunches. In the other, he’s a cloistered nun whose world of self-denial puts the suddenly clean and sober Kirk to shame.
Escaping to a dream world
Of the seemingly vast chasm between alcohol dependency and teetotaling, Willett says "I wanted to explore if there is a middle ground. Are there people who drink on a regular basis and enjoy it, and occasionally drink too much, and are not alcoholics? Is that true? I was asking the question in writing this play.
In the play, Danny doesn’t seem to possess Willett’s keen sense of self-awareness... at least not while awake. In the dream state, though, "He finds himself in these two worlds. In one, he’s a three martini luncher ad exec in 1959 Manhattan."
Having been based in West Hollywood for the past six years, Willett had ready access to research. "I live in walking distance of 60 bars," notes the playwright, who candidly admits that the process of creating "Tiny Bubbles" was "an exploration of alcohol in my own life... my own personal relationship with it.
"I come from a family where people enjoy drinking. I’m a healthy person, though. I work out, I don’t smoke and I’m not overweight. But this [drinking] might be my one vice."
Like ’Mad Men’
It’s like "Mad Men," Willett explains, although his early work on the play began before that series romanticized everything from problem drinking to pillbox hats and manual typewriters.
"In the other world," Willett explains, "he’s a cloistered nun. So he’s living these two extremes; one where there’s complete freedom to drink as much as you want, and then this world where the pleasures are more of the spirit. Danny finds himself drawn to both."
Increasingly obsessed with his new alternate reality personas, and without the shared purpose of consuming large amounts of sweet mother alcohol, the bond between Danny and Kirk begins to fray.
"The two former drinking buddies," says Willett, "become extremely irritating to each other. They can’t escape... so when they start going down different roads, they trip over each other. One is trying to avoid alcohol and one is drinking more and more."
Dealing with issues
And while Danny retreats into dual fantasy worlds, "Kirk has to explore his relationship with Danny, which has been more complex for him than he has let on. Part of his journey, as he becomes sober, is to be more honest with people... to confront them [Danny] with some of the issues they have not dealt with in their relationship."
Throughout the play, Willett wrings both comedy and drama out of many ironies that one or both of the friends seem to be supremely unaware of. That observation is perhaps best represented by Danny’s telling choice of extreme worlds.
"The late 50s early 60s," notes Willett, "is the era Danny really wants to live in, because people were allowed to do these things, and there was only a judgment if you really fell apart. It’s that ’Mad Men’ mentality. Danny says, ’You used to have to work hard to prove to people that you were an alcoholic. Nowadays, all you have to do is want a lousy third drink.’ But he’s also drawn to the reclusive and more strictly ruled life of the convent."
One notable aspect of "Tiny Bubbles," which skewers more toward refreshing nonchalance than cleverly observed irony, is the Willett’s insistence not to put the sexual orientation of the characters front and center. Recalling an observation once made of the playwright by the New York Times, he notes, "They said I write about gay characters in a way where the gayness isn’t the subject. I live in a gay world, so I plug gay characters into what I write about... and so it comes into the dynamic of the relationships."
"Tiny Bubbles" runs through August 13, 2012 at the Medicine Show Theatre (on the 3rd Floor or 549 W. 52nd St., btw. 10th & 11th Aves.). For tickets ($18), call 212-868-4444 or visit www.smarttix.com. For info on the play, visit newdirectionstheater.org.