The Brick 1/22-31, 2015
The churning, classic, aspiring big city, constantly memorializing and replacing itself, gives you ever more ends of the world to live through. Early in Bonedive Scrounger a longtime bar patron tells a new one that the site is built over an ancient Native burial ground, and the new guy says he thought they said it was a landfill, and the regular says, “Right.” We all end up on the scrapheap of history, and treasure is in the eye of the finder.
Set in a gentrifying early-1990s New York, the play tosses on layers of now-archaic tech (polaroids instead of phone-cameras, classified dating ads instead of OKCupid) to highlight un-throw-outable human behaviors (say, the predatory pettiness of taking involuntary selfies of your passed-out date). The wilderness flattened under Manhattan and environs is simulated in a deer-hunting videogame at the back of the bar, and the metaphorical wordplay of some patrons (navigated with mischievous brilliance by playwright Fred Backus) is like the prophetic riddles of some unknown tribe in an old explorer movie.
The explorer is the aptly cowboy-named Bronco (a contained and dimly desperate po-mo Frank Capra-film characterization by Jorge Cordova), an aspiring author who wanders into the bar where most of the action and metaphysics take place. Jimmy, a bottle-draining sage who seems to be delivering his half of an earbud conversation with annunciating angels (in an inspired, hazily antic portrayal by Bryan Enk), likens the quest for libations to some primal nomadic search for sustenance, and it’s true; by definition everyone in a bar is from somewhere else.
Bronco may be an interloper to the regular crowd, but they all have other places to be, or did. Clementina, actually the one other newcomer (a performance of intense natural dignity by the usually uproarious Rebecca Comtois), is there to meet a blind date who never does get seen; bartender Elie (imagined with masterful muted umbrage by Timothy McCown Reynolds) is of definitively indeterminate Eastern European origin; the ambiguously gifted photographer/philosopher Annie (incarnated with hilarious simmering mystique by Alyssa Simon) has walked in from every beatnik/hippie exploitation movie made between 1950 and 1975; and Bull, the brawler and official in-house voice of disapproval (a portrait of noble menace and self-declared authority from Bob Laine), comes back and forth to the bar from a deathwatch for his faithful, ailing, totemically identified dog.
In the Eugene O’Neill era, Bronco might have been the unappreciated dreamer among working-class drones, but sympathies are as shifting as the demolished and rebuilt urban landscape, and we see him and the bar denizens in very changing lights as the play progresses. The pace is real-time but revelatory, thanks to director Maggie Cino (who also had the idea the rearrange the small theater’s seating so it runs along one long wall, putting us in one big figurative booth at the side of a convincing industrial-revolution bar space).
Interrogation is a common mode of the patrons’ conversation, feeling out motives and drawing conclusions of their own. Seen perhaps through Bronco’s eyes as an off-the-boat caricature for most of the play, Elie at the end gets an eloquent speech about local Darwinism that Bronco would rather not hear, and Annie remains unknowable while posing all the questions he’d rather not put to himself. These depths within the deceptive demimonde stereotypes were there all the time, but no one asked them.
So by the end they speak for themselves, and Clementina fits in with the mismatch but Bronco not so much, and somehow, the more honest oddballs will survive the waves of imposters around them. The bar is a symbolic crossroads of course, and much popular fiction dreams of seeking out lost societies and magic realms; fewer, braver fantasies, like Bonedive Scrounger, consider what happens when Brigadoon doesn’t want you.