Theater is livelier in England primarily because the directly competing media, movies and TV, are less voracious of playwrighting talent. Hence, the increasing predominance of British plays in New York theaters, the latest, unlikeliest import being Bouncers, a one-act quasi-documentary comedy that portrays with ribald accuracy the protocols of proletarian boozing and sexual cruising in the dance halls of northern England. John Godber is already, at age 31, the author of thirteen plays, many of which he directed for his own Hull Truck Traveling Theatre. In 1984 two of his comedies won awards as Best Comedy of the year: the Laurence Olivier Award for Up 'n Under and the Edinburgh Festival Award for Bouncers.
In New York Bouncers has enjoyed a different kind of success, having excited the usually phlegmatic and kindly Edith Oliver of The New Yorker to stigmatize it as "a hateful British import' and "repulsive.' (She makes exception for a scene in which the four cast members pantomime a porno videotape, which she admits is "truly funny.') John Simon in New York is even more outraged than Dame Edith: for him the show is "only a sorry concatenation of obscene and scatological jokes,' one of which he quotes, delicately leaving his readers to fill in the missing blanks of a shocking four-letter word that begins with "s.' After scolding even the set designer (the set is a bare stage), he clinches his case so: "If none of this is enough to discourage you, let me add that the show was a hit with critics and audiences in Los Angeles, and ran there for a solid year.' Truly, this is the kind of generation-gap polarization that every young playwright lusts for--to have audiences roaring with laughter and the critics in spasms of virtuous indignation. If Godber had stepped on stage and p---ed in Sir John's lap, he could not have made a bigger splash.
To be fair, it is not all Dodber's doing. The author has been steeped in theater long enough to have the quintessential dramatic gift of knowing what elements are best left to be filled out by the invention of the director and the charm or fascination of the cast, and he has not been let down. The director, Ron Link, milks the script for all it's worth. As in a Michael Bennett musical, the excitement of the show depends on the nonstop caroming of the four cast members about the bare stage, like frenetic figures in a video arcade game. The precision drill choreography by Jeff Calhoun derives more from sports than from dance, and the cast--Anthony M. La Paglia, Adrian Paul, Gerrit Graham, Dan Gerrity--comes across as a team rather than as performers of different and distinct roles. This, despite the fact that each actor is required to play a small anthology of bit parts, primarily the nightclub bouncers of the title, and secondarily a quarter of callow youths and a quartet of broadly caricatured girls. However, all these roles are generic, and there are no sustained interactions between the component monads of the various quartets; no plot, only the pattern of a typical night on the town. One enjoys Bouncers (or doesn't) like MTV, as a rush of personality-flashes, jokes, gestures, a fashion show in which the product on view is not clothing (the cast never changes out of its tuxedos) but Attitude, in the 1980s sense of how clothes are to be inhabited.
Godber has been taken to task by some of his critics for not creating "characters' and for failing to reprehend the life styles he's reporting on. "It makes its points not with dialectic,' wrote Frank Rich in The New York Times, "but through the animalistic language (oral and body) of people who express themselves almost entirely in primitive gropings for drink, violence and sex.' Rich maintains that the play fails because it only "now and then' expresses "the night fevers of a dead-end society simmering in the juices of bile and booze.' All of which seems completely beside the point of Godber's essentially buoyant bawdry. Godber's bouncers are rolemodel rhetoricians of the obscene, and so in their less macho way are the blokes who are the nightclub's customers: ordinary likable people having an ordinary night on the town, getting drunk, making out and going nowhere. Not a Nativity pageant, but scarcely a vision of hell. Anyhow, unless you're a Methodist, a Mormon or a nun, don't be put off by my colleagues' reviews. Bouncers is good, wholesome, dirty fun, with special appeal for those with prurient interests.
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|Title Annotation:||New York|
|Author:||Disch, Thomas M.|
|Article Type:||Theater Review|
|Date:||Oct 24, 1987|
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