Days of Wine and Roses at Rover Dramawerks

Wow. A two act infomercial, relentlessly torchy, about the nightmare of alcohol abuse and the shining hope Alcoholics Anonymous offers. Stage-worthy entertainment?  “You’d be surprised how much fun you can have sober” exclaims newly sober drunk Joe, clutching his little red book, to remorselessly plastered wife Kirsten near the end of Act II in  Days of Wine and Roses, by JP Miller.

Fun like a  barrel of dead monkeys.DaysWine90Image

How does a theatre company select its shows? More specifically, why would Plano’s Rover Dramawerks select something so labored and preachy, so utterly depressing, no matter how well intentioned? I never saw the 1962 film, starring Jack Lemmon, Lee Remick, and Charles Bickford. My only previous encounter with the work is the hysterical send-up skit of it Carol Burnett did on her weekly television show. Frankly, I prefer her version. Over the top works better for laughs. Come on, guys. There are so many fine works of stage drama out there that deal with alcohol and its detrimental effects on people’s lives; just because your mission is to “produce lost or forgotten works of well-known authors” doesn’t justify dredging up a trite downer like this play, an adaptation of a 1958 teleplay turned into a not-so successful Jack Lemmon vehicle. I asked Rover Dramawerks’ house staff if this was chosen as part of some sort of partnership with the city of Plano re: alcohol awareness, a social cause. Nope. Artistic merits.

I hate to see a good company waste its time (and money) and the talents of a strong director and a capable, if lost, cast on a play with a dated, wooden, soap opera bad script and predictable proselytizing plot. It even ends with main character Joe mumbling the Serenity Prayer. No chorus of angels? It’s not that I object to the prayer or its sentiments. Nor to the good work AA does. This play would drive one to drink if one didn’t already imbibe.

When this pet project of JP Miller’s emerged in 1958, he received high acclaim for the clear dramatization of Alcoholics Anonymous meetings (still a mystery in the early 1950s). The teleplay received strong praise for its non-glamorized examination of the alcoholic’s life descent. The New York Times’ Jack Gould raved in his review. “It was a brilliant and compelling work… Mr. Miller’s dialogue was especially fine, natural, vivid and understated. Miss (Piper) Laurie’s performance was enough to make the flesh crawl; yet it also always elicited deep sympathy. …Mr. (Cliff) Robertson achieved first-rate contrast between the sober man fighting to hold on and the hopeless drunk whose only courage came from the bottle.” Rover Dramawerk’s script (maybe not the teleplay’s?) is so stiff and trite it’s hard for the actors to look like anything but stereotypes of what a “drunk” should be. Kind of like watching “Reefer Madness” – perhaps it had relevant impact for its time, hard to take it seriously today, much less sit through it.

A note to parents of young children, like the ones with bored babes whimpering, sneezing and rustling two rows below me tonight:
This play is not for kids. Do not bring them with you. Get a babysitter. Or, rent the 1962 movie and stay home.

The cast: Jim Croall, Heather Hill, Erik Knapp, Daphne Coulonge, James Hansen Price, Robin Daphne Coulonge, Greg Hullett, Dana Harrison.
The director: Lisa Devine.
Bless you all; you certainly put forth honest effort. I hate writing negative reviews.
Days of Wine and Roses runs through June 21 at the Cox Building Playhouse in Plano

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