When you see a show titled Vodka, F***ing and Television, it's inevitable that one question will come to mind. Will the show be as crass and funny as the name suggests, or will it go overboard and be dead on arrival? I'm glad to say that with its witty script, skillful direction, and extraordinary cast, Vodka, F***ing and Television, produced by Breaking String and now playing at the Hyde Park Theatre, will easily win you over.
The play, written by Russian playwright Maksym Kurochkin and translated by John J. Hanlon, is a madcap hour-and-ten minutes in which a struggling writer and poet (billed as "Hero" and played by the incomparable Noel Gaulin) confronts his three vices of vodka, f***ing, and television (personified by Joey Hood, Adriene Mishler, and Jude Hickey respectively) in an attempt to rid one or more of them from his life. Granted there are countless other semi-autographic accounts of writers struggling with writer's block (the movie Adaptation comes to mind), but rarely is it done with such humor and self-deprecating vulgarity. There's plenty of conflict between Hero and his vices, but there's no plot or point, allowing the play to become an amusing character study of a man and his anthropomorphic flaws. Save for a very misguided twist that is so nonsensical that it still doesn't fit within a play that involves a man talking to ideas rather than people, the show is satiric farce at its best.
While the script is witty and fresh, it's the cast and crew that truly makes it come alive. Liz Fisher, last seen on stage in Capital T Theatre's The Pain and the Itch, proves that she is just as strong when in the director's chair. Her staging of VFT constantly moves around the intimate Hyde Park Theatre, and her pre-show blocking of Hero pacing through his apartment as he channel surfs and masturbates to female news anchors is a laughter-inducing setting of the scene. Ia Enstera's set is incredibly detailed in its clutter and filth. If you've ever stepped inside a studio apartment of a starving artist, you will greatly appreciate Enstera's authentic design. While the costumes by Glenda Barnes are fairly simple, the decision to clothe all three vices in the same sky blue button-down shirt is a clever touch. Steven Shirey's lighting design is just as clever and tongue-in-cheek as the material, especially when each vice takes center stage to state why they should be allowed to stay. But it is Lowell Bartholomee's video design that you'll notice and appreciate the most. The television set in the back of the space stays on throughout the show, and on it Bartholomee displays various clips from TV shows and movies, all of which comment on the action, allowing his video design to become an additional character.
Like the creative team, the cast here is absolutely stellar. As Vodka, Joey Hood is a bar crawler who seems to have had just one too many. Instead of playing Vodka as a stumbling, word-slurring drunk, he plays Vodka as a guy whose trying to act sober, which is much funnier to watch. Jude Hickey is just as delightful as Television, whom he plays as a cross between a cheesy newscaster and a sleazy television producer. And Adriene Mishler is smoky and sultry as F***ing, the sexy temptress and certainly the favorite vice of the majority of the audience. But it is Noel Gaulin as Hero who really steals the show. He gives off a Jack Sparrow-esqe swagger, and though he is a crazy, unsympathetic mess of a character, you still like him despite his flaws.
While the premise of a character study involving a struggling artist is nothing new, Vodka, F***ing and Television is a well-written and well-acted laugh riot. While almost everyone else in town is producing sentimental shows for the Christmas season, it's nice to see that Breaking String is going against the grain with much success. What VFT lacks in sentimentality it certainly makes up in dark and twisted humor.
Run time: Approximately 1 hour and 10 minutes with no intermission.
Not suitable for children.
VODKA, F***ING AND TELEVISION, produced by Breaking String Theatre, plays the Hyde Park Theatre at 511 West 43rd Street in Austin, TX now thru December 15th.
Performances are 11/30, 12/1, 12/3, 12/6, 12/7, 12/8, 12/13, 12/14, and 12/15 at 8pm and 12/14 and 12/15 at 10pm.
Tickets are $15-$25.
For tickets and information, please visit http://breakingstring.com/nowplaying