Absinthe, Bourbon, Vodka and Sake
At the devastating finale of Absinthe, Bourbon, Vodka and Sake, you realize this is not the play you thought you were watching.
It’s better, smarter, more topical, and shockingly emotional — like a sucker punch to the gut.
The world premiere of Calgary playwright Caroline Russell-King’s drama, directed by Red Deer Players’ Lori Lane, started out innocently enough at Red Deer’s Scott Block Theatre on opening night Thursday.
Playwright Kennedy London (played by Roxzane Armstrong) begins tutoring clueless high school student/would-be screenwriter, Parker, about the ABCs of scriptwriting.
The early scenes play out as if Virginia Woolf was lecturing a dopey version of Keanu Reeves. This prep-school kid (as portrayed by Carson Rafuse) isn’t familiar with Warner Brothers cartoons, much less Strindberg or Shakespeare
Twisty and topical play makes emotional world premiere at Red Deer’s Scott Block Theatre
Too often Kennedy comes across as mildly bored with the whole exercise as she talks about capital-A Art. She’s endlessly condescending about what Parker doesn’t know — which is everything — about theatrical irony, plot, protagonists, conflict and dialogue.
As Kennedy weaves around her abstract-art-decorated apartment — which she haughtily refers to as a salon — talking shop and drinking the succession of alcoholic beverages listed in the play’s title, she can’t resist being sarcastic at Parker’s expense.
The good-natured high school student mostly ignores her snarky comments as he tries to soak up her high-brow chatter about pantomime, improvisation and antagonists. Rarely does Parker swipe back at Kennedy — which is a missing ingredient that would have added some badly needed conflict to the first half of the play.
Just as the audience begins feeling sorry for this kid and fed up with the playwright’s lecturing — which feels directed at the audience as much as Parker — we are shown another side to Kennedy’s character.
It seems the playwright is volunteering at a rehab, even though her other student is far more resistant than Parker.
There are major plot twists in this play. Things are not as they appear. By the end, Kennedy’s cool, controlled persona drops like a mask, revealing her inner trauma. To say more would be saying too much.
Armstrong and Rafuse pull off wonderfully nuanced performances on a creative set designed by Ken Matthews. Armstrong is especially strong as the emotion builds and Kennedy finally faces her demons.
Congratulations to the real playwright, Caroline Russell-King, for concocting this remarkable story that was developed in Red Deer. With some additional tweaking and editing to the first scenes, the script is sure to be even more powerful and compelling.
Certainly, the theme is all too relevant. Absinthe, Bourbon, Vodka and Sakecomes with a warning about difficult, even potentially triggering, content.
Kudos also to Red Deer Players for not only premiering this play but also helping workshop Russell-King’s script as part of its Breaking Cover play reading series.
Now that theatre is making a comeback after COVID, this promising drama will hopefully lead to more perceptive and evocative original productions being staged in Red Deer in the months to come.
Help support thought-provoking local theatre by checking out Absinthe, Bourbon, Vodka and Sake. It will run June 1-3 and June 7-10 at 7:30 p.m. at the Scott Block Theatre. Tickets are available from eventbrite.ca or through the Red Deer Players website.