Day Drinkers

Ben Miles Reviews - Theater

You’ve seen them—with neon names like Hi-Roy’s and Bee “R” Hive signaling to the late night lounge lizards, as well as to other liquor-swilling losers, abusers, and accusers; but they also flash an open-for-business cue to a cadre of early morning boozers. Yes, even in the dewy a.m. hours these neighborhood watering holes seem to have their devoted cocktail clientele.

Such is the focus of Los Angeles’ most prolific, and arguably most produced playwright, Justin Tanner. In Tanner’s latest script, Day Drinkers, Bart Delorenzo’s life-like direction makes a sensory experience out of Tanner’s theatricalization of day drinking. Indeed, taking a seat in the audience feels something like entering the archetypal corner dive (thanks in part to Gary Guidinger’s liquor-ambient set design and Bosco Flanagan’s dim and subtle barroom lighting motif).

As the show begins, it’s a little after 9 a.m., and an anxious-for-alcohol patron taps impatiently at the front door of the dark, dank tavern. Soon a man, Daniel, appears from within the pub to open the secured entrance. The customer, Mick, at last enters, complaining that under the previous proprietor—Daniel’s dearly departed parent—he never had to wait until 9:25 to place his “scotch omelet, hold the eggs” order.

Shortly thereafter, Mick the barfly (Tom Fitzpatrick in a most authentic characterization) and the young saloonkeeper, Daniel (an intensely charismatic Todd Lowe) are joined by Daniel’s temperamental wife, Jenny (Chloe Taylor, in an earthy portrayal). Clearly, Jenny and Daniel are at odds. The contempt that Jenny holds for Daniel registers on her face as if it were an acute physical pain.

Similarly, Daniel’s relational discontent is obvious in the way he belittles and verbally abuses Jenny, using self-pity as a cover, or perhaps an excuse, for his perpetual tetchiness. Of course there’s a more nefarious igniter of Daniel’s ignominious belligerence towards Jenny; this matrimonial meshugass provides a dramatic arch and plenty of tension in Day Drinkers, as we in the audience simply observe as events transpire.

Before long, old Mick’s aged fiancé, Val (Danielle Kennedy in a delightfully outrageous performance), joins this beverage-for-breakfast bunch, along with fellow barflies—Sharon and Kate, a lesbian couple (played convincingly by Maile Flanagan and Melissa Denton, respectively).

Val, however, has supposedly lost her engagement ring—the one for which Mick purportedly paid $7,000. With mild suspense we, along with a cast of day drinking characters, are drawn into what may or may not have happened to this valuable or not so valuable piece of jewelry.

Next, Daniel’s prodigal brother, Caleb (a magnetic Cody Chappel), arrives unexpectedly at the unpretentious hostelry. Caleb was, after all, on his carefree way to Canada, but he’s returned due to an item he’s left behind and feels he must retrieve before leaving to go north. Caleb’s delayed departure causes a rise in an already tense familial situation.

Finally, we learn that Mick’s middle-aged man of a son, Bradley (Jonathan Palmer in a scene-stealing turn), has made arrangements to meet Mick in the drinking establishment. Pressing family matters must be addressed, after all.

Day Drinkers, like so many Tanner plays (Pot Mom and Procreation, for example), transcends our judgments and character-logical criticisms. These theatrical personas appear as real and credible human beings.

These are characters surviving—albeit on life’s rocky amoral edge—as best they know how. Heavy daytime doses of libation may not be what any doctor would order as a treatment for what ails this assemblage of drunken denizens; nevertheless, a stiff belt from an 80-proof bottle of something or other is the self-prescribed medicine that these people imbibe on an hourly basis.

Our duty as theatergoers is to simply witness the booze-drenched dynamics of these human interactions. Like the morning after a long night (or day) of hard partying, you may not remember or be able to make sense out of everything that may have just happened in Day Drinkers—but it’s still a good time while it lasts (and it lasts just 90 minutes with no intermission).

Day Drinkers continues at the Odyssey Theatre—2055 South Sepulveda Boulevard, Los Angeles—through October 9, 2011. Show times are Fridays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. Matinees are Sundays at 2 p.m. (Occasionally Wednesday performances are held; they begin at 8 p.m. Contact theater for schedule.)For reservations, dial (310) 477 – 2055. For online ticketing and further information, visit