F. J. Hartland
Alcoholism knows no boundaries. It cuts across all lines: gender, race, age and social class.
Sadly, too, alcoholism takes a toll on the lives of more than just the individual doing the drinking.
Both these points are brilliantly addressed in Shaken and Stirred by Virginia Wall Gruenert, the current offering at Off The Wall in Washington PA.
Utilizing an ensemble cast of four women, the playwright has dove-tailed the stories of eight different characterseach struggling with a different facet of alcohol abuse.
It could easily be reduced to all gloom and doom, but the playwright has wisely infused humor into the script as well.
Erica Cuenca plays Happy, and Cuenca superbly transforms from a young girl on roller skates to a disillusioned college student. Happy both adores and is ashamed of her father, who spends his time drinking in the basementwhen he isnt fighting with Happys mother. Cuenca makes the gradual changes in Happys ages and mood flawlessly.
Karen Baum plays Harley a tough-talking bar maid from Kentucky. She and her mother live in a trailer, and Harley picks up all her mothers bad habitsmen and booze. Harley is raped by one of her mothers boyfriends. Regardless, she loves the baby the is the result of the assault. The baby is taken away from herand all Harley wants is to get her child back. Baums performance is beautifully layered. We see the pain under the tough talking veneer. She will move you to tears as Harley is begging to see her childal while chugging a bottle of mouthwash.
Virginia Wall Gruenert plays a variety of roles; Happys mom, Harleys sponsor in AA, a former activist now battling liver cancer. Each character is distinctly drawn. Her Iris, the AA sponsor, is very funny; her Roz is heart-breaking.
Shaken and Stirred is directed by Robyne Parrish, who also plays two roles in the play. While the scenes play at wonderful pace, there are some scene transitions that stop the momentum of the play, forcing the actors to go back to square one and recapture the audience.
The set by Paul A Shaw is simple, but works well for the many settings and time changes in the play. It is dominated by three large painted panels. The image of two of the panels made sense, but I was confused by the symbolism of the center panel.
Shaken and Stirred is a powerful and emotional piece. If you know anyone who is an alcoholic, the play will speak to you. If you do not, it will give you insight to a disease that cripples millions of individualsand the people who love them.
Shaken and Stirred runs through October 22. Then it will move to Theatre 54 in midtown Manhattan for a week-long New York run.