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Stage

Punch Drunk

Single Carrot gets political

Photo: Britt Olsen-Ecker, License: N/A

Britt Olsen-Ecker

Sam (Elliot Rauh, left) offers guy (Dustin C.T. Morris) an erotic and political education.


Drunk Enough to Say I Love You?

Written by Caryl Churchill

Directed by Ben Hoover

Through Oct. 21 at Single Carrot Theatre

To call Drunk Enough to Say I Love You? didactic is a gross understatement. The political message in the script—one that could have been cribbed from arch-leftist Noam Chomsky—makes the works of Bertolt Brecht seem subtle. British playwright Caryl Churchill clearly wants us to question U.S. foreign policy. But on a deeper, far more interesting level, the play is about the ways we are all equally seduced by and indoctrinated into that foreign policy, whether we can bear to admit it or not.

Drunk Enough doesn’t exactly have a plot. Sam (Elliott Rauh), a slick, seductive, and sadistic Mad Men-era CIA-type in a smart suit, returns to his super-modernist Georgetown apartment with Guy (Dustin C.T. Morris). The action of the play consists of Guy’s erotic and political education (or seduction) by Sam.

When the play was first performed, in 2006, it was read as an allegory of the relationship between the U.S. and Great Britain (or more particularly George Bush and Tony Blair). But Single Carrot eschews this connection. When Guy—in the original, he was named Jack, for Union Jack—first enters Sam’s apartment, he is wearing a T-shirt and a hoodie, transforming the character from a stand-in for Great Britain into an everyman American slacker—into us. It’s a brilliant move on director Ben Hoover’s part because it transforms the play from a political screed into an exploration of love. Or rather, it casts love of country as a dark, abusive relationship that we can all, at some level, understand.

“Drunk enough to say I love you?” are Sam’s first words as the two stumble onto the stage, and immediately, the power dynamic is clear. Rauh plays Sam with a great deal of charismatic power, clearly controlling each movement and every word. When he gets on his knees in front of Guy, undoing his belt, the erotic tension and psychosomatic control are entirely believable, especially when he pulls away, deepening the sway he holds over Guy. Within moments, Guy, ably played by Morris, has agreed to leave his family and stay with Sam, changing his ordinary-dude clothes for a suit (not quite as slick as Sam’s).

Sam is unchanging throughout the play; Guy’s continued vacillations between being swayed by his lover and sickened by him add the only drama to this drama. He sees the necessity of Sam’s (America’s) power, and acts on Sam’s behalf—domestic tasks like making a sandwiches or chopping carrots and lettuce stand in for political intervention—but he also recoils and, at one point, finally leaves Sam to return to his family.

None of this, however, actually captures what is fascinating about this play. The actors have a great dynamic, but they wouldn’t be able to lift it out of the realm of bland agitprop if not for Churchill’s extraordinary dialogue, which functions by hints, elisions, and half-starts. Sam and Guy complete each other’s lines as if they were some bizarre right-wing version of a debate-coaching scene written by James Ellroy and performed by the Beastie Boys. The names of the places, leaders, and dictators that have dominated our foreign policy discussion since the Vietnam War are crammed together in the rapid-fire exchange, allowing 50 years of history to speed by in the course of a domestic scene.

“Now we need to prevent some elections,” Sam says, after detailing a few rigged elections past. “Overthrow only as a last resort . . . military solution” he says.

“I love you more than I can . . .” Guy says as a short clip from a Bob Dylan song interrupts him, and Sam ties a tie, takes it off his neck, and puts it around Guy’s, signaling the end of his transformation.

Without having a script, the dialogue is nearly impossible to reproduce, no matter how fervently one scribbles in the dark theater. But it feels like that is the purpose: Sam intimates—almost forces into the mind—the kinds of ideas about foreign policy that are rarely ever spoken, because there is no rational argument for them, only an emotional pull. Our economy is the only one that matters; it is right for us to consume a majority of the world’s goods; we can support any dictator who supports our agenda.

In one of the most powerful scenes, Guy has finally abandoned Sam, who is furiously chopping carrots and naming torture techniques, and we are reminded that the play was written in a brief, dark period when people did talk about the need for torture and the necessity of preserving American interests in a bald and open manner. One was seen as weak for suggesting moderation or compassion. It was us against them.

But Single Carrot’s performance of the play six years after it was originally written reminds us that we still openly accept many doctrines (or at least their spoils) so ugly that they remain half-spoken.

The set, a glowing-white example of modernism—as if the entire room is an iPod—also seems to reference the global economy: We can’t have our spiffy gadgets and sleek design without causing injustice somewhere. Single Carrot’s temporary change of location, from the recently closed Load of Fun to Maryland Institute College of Art’s Falvey Hall, suits this play perfectly. The design of the auditorium lends a slickness that the old Single Carrot space could not have provided.

The title of the play alludes to those things we feel deeply but don’t talk about, and the half-spoken, rapid-fire dialogue shows the ways our desires always rest on unspoken emotional premises rather than rational arguments. It is the perfect play for this political season, when even the “socialist” candidate confidently checks names off a kill list, as if shopping for carrots. It is perfect not because it tells us whether this is right or wrong, but because it shows us the mechanisms of our acquiescence.

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