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Theater review: 'Day Drinkers' at the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble

August 29, 2011 |  3:30 pm


A drinking game for L.A. theatergoers: do a shot whenever a play ends too soon. Still sober? Don’t lose hope. You may need a designated driver for “Day Drinkers,” Justin Tanner’s knockabout comedy of booze and heartbreak, now at the Odyssey Theatre. 

L.A.’s poet laureate of self-medicators turns his gimlet eye to the joys of a liquid breakfast more bracing than a double latte at Starbucks. And you’ll definitely feel like ordering your favorite libation on Gary Guidinger’s evocative set, a wood-paneled watering hole with a taxidermied fox as its animal totem. 

It’s 9a.m., and the bar is open: that means a scotch omelet for retiree Mick (Tom Fitzpatrick), bracing for the arrival of his priggish son, Bradley (Jonathan Palmer), intent on stopping dad from marrying loopy Val (Danielle Kennedy) and squandering what little remains of the family fortune. Rubbernecking on their way to an annual dose of familial homophobia are squabbling lesbians Sharon (Maile Flanagan) and Kate (Melissa Denton).  Even the (married) bartenders have issues: Jenny (Chloe Taylor) has the hots for Caleb (Cody Chappel), who just happens to be the brother of her husband, Daniel (Todd Lowe). Ah, love. Preppy Kate counsels Jenny to stick to her vows: “There’s a reason you two have been together for years.” Jenny: “Yeah, low standards.”

Tanner isn’t breaking new ground here, but his ability to sustain a single comic scene over the course of 90 minutes is impressive. The cast, under Bart DeLorenzo’s fluid direction, sets a rolling, punchy rhythm, and the evening’s single song, “My New Old Flame,” is in fine keeping with the overall tone. Kennedy’s Val, a walking non sequitur with a truly hideous handbag, serves as the unofficial “Day Drinkers” muse. Batty, well-meaning, and blithely needy, she could be any of us at our worst relationship moment. 

The play has its lazier side: Bradley is more surprising being incisive than pompous, and he tells a creepy ghost story that is one of the show’s best moments. Tanner never convinces us that Jenny fell for Caleb — her swain is woefully underimagined — but the playwright finds enough dark nooks and absurd crannies in everyday monogamy to send us out into the night feeling love is worth it, as long as the single malt is within reach.

-- Charlotte Stoudt

“Day Drinkers,” Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Additional performances  8 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 21 and Oct. 5. Ends Oct. 9. $25 and $30. (310) 477-2055 or Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.

Photo: Chloe Taylor, left, Danielle Kennedy, and Jonathan Palmer in "Day Drinkers." Credit: Ed Krieger.