According to Arthur Kopit and Anton Dudley’s new play, Drummhicit — pronounced drum-hkkkt — is a single-malt Scotch. It’ll curl your nose and lacquer your teeth but is not ready for prime time. Neither is the play.
A Dram of Drummhicit isn’t an exact rip-off of the movie Local Hero, in which a Texas oil magnate wants to buy a Scottish village for a refinery. But it’s close. In Dram, American developer Robert Bruce — no relation to Scotland’s legendary Robert the Bruce — wants to build two golf courses on Muckle Skerry, an island three and a half hours north of Glasgow. But fairies supposedly inhabit the property. So, Bruce sends young Charles Pearse, a “fixer,” to iron out details. Like Mac, the “fixer” in Local Hero, Pearse goes native.
At the end of Local Hero, Mac returns to Houston. His condo overlooks an orchard of oil derricks. But in the background we hear Mark Knopfler’s mystical “Going Home.” The song’s Scottish lilt pits Mac between two worlds. He’s stuck in Texas but his heart’s in the highlands.
At the end of Dram, owing to pseudo-supernatural shenanigans, Pearse goes even more native. But, by then, the authors’ heavy-handed urge to pry laughter from the audience has ground things down. What could have been magical just ends up silly. Most of the dialogue, especially in the first act, involves detailed explanations. Dram’s as gabby as a Scottish pub.
Only one scene has what playwright Moss Hart called “the breath of life.” Pearse comes to the home of Angus MacLeod (John Ahlin) and his daughter Fiona (Polly Lee), who might be a fairy in human form. Pearse is soaking wet, so Angus encourages him to take a bath — with Fiona. Turns out they’re compatible tuning forks, and much more. As Pearse, Lucas Hall reacts with an endearing combination of innocence and awakened desire. It’s one of the few times Dram achieves unforced vitality.
Or stages characters that are more than sketches. Robert Bruce, the entitled American developer, for example, practically has “villain” etched across his mustache (and his red-rinsed demise is as hokum as a 19th-century melodrama). The denizens of Drummhicit, thanks to an eager ensemble cast and David C. Wollard’s spot-on costumes, suggest as much “character” as the principals — several of whom, strange to see, are miked.
Christopher Ashley directed with a firm, upbeat approach. Lines receive hard, urgent stresses (from the miked actors, in particular). But for a play trying to be light and magical, the tactic contributes to the overall sense of heaviness.
Right now, San Diego is showcasing the design work of David Zinn. His set for August: Osage County at the Old Globe is a sturdy, three-level monster that rightfully dominates the stage picture. For Dram, Zinn plays a shell game, with stone walls the color of St. Andrews, the “auld grey toon.” Tall half-circles, the walls rotate and reconfigure, unveiling a church parish or a pub or the hills behind Drummhicit. Every time the walls close, you don’t know what they’ll reveal when they reopen or where the many details have been hidden.
Except for the final steeplechase, most of the action happens off-stage. Same with the play’s best joke. The real Muckle Skerry, off the northern tip of Scotland, barely qualifies as an island (a “skerry” is lower classification). The weather’s so bad that, except for a lighthouse, it’s uninhabitable. Even fairies, gnomes, and puckish elves might find the constant, howling winds a mite too inclement.
It may have been PR to plug his three one-acts, or true. Rumor has it that when Neil LaBute’s bash: latterday plays was first produced, the Mormon Church excommunicated him for eternity. Iphigenia in Orem, Medea Redux, and A Gaggle of Saints portray confessions of three unthinkable crimes by church members. Neighbors would say of each speaker, “I had no idea. He/she just doesn’t look the type.” And when we first see them, it’s easy to overlook their urge to confess beneath such chipper smiles.
Two titles recall Greek tragedies. But LaBute’s people don’t utter the elevated language of Sophocles. Their talk is disturbingly conversational, sometimes off the cuff and chatty; their demeanors eerily calm; their deeds psychotic.
Ion Theatre staged bash in 2008 at its old Mission Valley theater. Mounting it at the more intimate Sixth and Penn space makes the monologues starker. The actors sit in circles of light. They look straight down the center aisle. Movements are few. The elemental staging, under Glenn Paris’s capable direction, aligns the plays as much with Samuel Beckett as it does the Greeks.
Brian Mackey and Rachael VanWormer reprise their roles. Both excel. Mackey’s garrulous speakers recall the title of Robert Scheer’s Thinking Tuna Fish, Talking Death. And VanWormer (who won a 2008 Craig Noel Award for the cold-blooded speaker in Medea Redux) plays two women temperamentally worlds apart. They’re so unlike, in fact, it’s hard to imagine the same actor not only doing both but doing them back-to-back with almost no break. ■
A Dram of Drummhicit, by Arthur Kopit and Anton Dudley
La Jolla Playhouse, 2910 La Jolla Village Drive
Directed by Christopher Ashley; cast: John Ahlin, Kelly AuCoin, Natalie Birriel, Ron Choularton, Joseph Culliton, Murphy Guyer, Lucas Hall, Gabriel Lawrence, Polly Lee, Alan Mandell, Ltheryn Meisle, Larry Paulsen; scenic design, David Zinn; costumes, David C. Woolard; lighting, Philip Rosenberg; composer/sound designer, John Gromada
Playing through June 12; Sunday at 7:00 p.m., Tuesday and Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday at 8:00 p.m. Matinee Saturday and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. 858-550-1010
bash: latterday plays, by Neil LaBute
Ion Theatre, 3704 Sixth Avenue, Hillcrest
Directed by Glenn Paris; cast: Brian Mackey, Rachael VanWormer; scenery and lighting, Claudio Raygoza; costumes, Paris
Playing through June 18; Thursday through Saturday at 8:00 p.m. Matinee Saturday at 4:00 p.m. 619-600-5020