‘Drinking in America’ review — Andre Royo’s talent outshines a dated play

Read our review of Eric Bogosian's play Drinking in America, starring Andre Royo of The Wire, now playing at the Minetta Lane Theatre through April 8.

Amelia Merrill
Amelia Merrill

Many Eric Bogosian titles feel tailored to 2023 audiences. Talk Radio examines the creation of an entertainment persona, parasocial relationships, and far-right extremist violence. subUrbia discusses the timeless dilemma of growing up, getting out, and getting your life together. But Bogosian’s Drinking in America, now at the Minetta Lane Theatre, has nothing new to say about substance use or its fallout; in fact, dated language hampers the show. The choice to produce it today is less a question of art for art’s sake than of art for the sake of profit.

Drinking in America stars the charismatic Andre Royo, best known for his turn on TV’s The Wire. He performs a series of monologues that all involve, to some extent, drug and alcohol use: He plays a talent agent dependent on cocaine to deal with Hollywood hotheads, a drunk man on the street with delusions of grandeur, a stony preacher who encourages his audience to “take a bottle, fill it up with gasoline, light it on fire, throw it into one of these abortion clinics.”

Royo, who has been sober for over a year, begins the show with a brief introduction to his adolescence in the Bronx (and was surprised that, at my performance, no one clapped at the borough’s mention). With the house lights still up, Royo’s transition into his first character is seamless, but further ones are more muddled.

Audiences unfamiliar with Bogosian’s solo plays may strive to make connections among the characters, some of whom may be one man’s alter ego or a voice in another’s head. They are connected most of all not by Mark Armstrong’s direction or Royo’s performance, but by Kristen Robinson’s carceral set, which evokes an apartment complex, a recording studio, and an asylum all at once in its stark simplicity.

The script, revised for this revival (Bogosian first performed the show in 1986), references culture war arguments still raging as much today as when Bogosian won the Drama Desk Award. It also nods to the playwright’s other work: The preacher, described as “The Law,” refers to Alan Berg, the Jewish shock jock whose murder by white supremacists became the focus of the film adaptation of Talk Radio. Perhaps this reference is meant to be tongue-in-cheek for theatregoers more familiar with Bogosian’s Succession appearance than his written works, but it feels a bit smug.

The missive of Drinking in America is unclear beyond “Don’t do drugs” or, rather, “Do drugs if you want, I guess.” It need not be a diatribe or a scared-straight lecture, but the revival reinforces its lack of a larger thesis. Minetta Lane is the theatrical home for Amazon’s Audible, and Drinking in America is suitable as an audio drama to listen to on your phone.

Its current form showcases Royo’s talent and lets actors jot down monologues to add to their repertoire, but it doesn’t aspire to something more impactful. Due in large part to Royo’s star power, however, Drinking in America will achieve its goal to sell tickets regardless of the impression it leaves.

Drinking in America is at the Minetta Lane Theatre through April 8. Get Drinking in America tickets on New York Theatre Guide.

Photo credit: Andre Royo in Drinking in America. (Photo by Jeremy Daniel)

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