John Godber's 1977 play takes place at a disco called "Mr Cinder's," where university boys slam beers and cruise local girls; the local girls in turn survey their prospects from among the male club population; and the be-suited bouncers of the title watch over the entire scene with world-weary eyes.
Stickball Productions' long overdue New England premiere of
This is both a strength and, initially, a challenge. The Stickball Productions presentation of the show runs, suitably enough, in the basement space of the Cantab Lounge, which in many ways is reminiscent of the Ramrod bar at Machine, only smaller. (Not too small to include a full bar, however!)
The tiny stage is a bandstand at the front of a black-box style room; this is theater at its most intimate, where you can see up-close (and almost literally feel) the actors transforming into their roles. It's in this confined space that all the action takes place and all the settings flash by, and it takes some real acting and directorial genius to conjure the differing environments: Outside the disco on the freezing cold street; inside the disco's throbbing inferno of noise and pheromones; in various flashback settings; and in a narrative mind-space where one bouncer, Lucky Eric (Joe Siriani), broods about the senseless degradation of it all.
This production also demands quick attention from the audience, and at first it's difficult to figure out exactly what's happening and who these people are. When the four bouncers abruptly seem to morph into a quartet of gay men, clearly something is up: After a moment, it becomes clear that these are not gay men at all, but four young women preparing for a night out. Once you've sorted out who is who, and gotten used to the whipcrack-fast transitions, there's loads of fun (and not a little laddish humor) to be found here.
Godber hails from West Yorkshire, England, and has taught at universities in Liverpool and Hull. His play is unmistakably English in tone and cultural accent; all four actors (Siriani; Seyi Ayorinde; Patrick Curran; and James Bocock) pull on the appropriate regional accents as smoothly as their tux slacks and jackets.
Offering a summary of the plot would be impossible because by design this is a freewheeling play built around incident and gags, but at the same time there's a sober thread of melancholy running throughout the proceedings -- a comment, one feels, on the ringing emptiness that awaits after a night of loud music and too much to drink. Godber treads lightly around that existential edge, however, and director Bill Doncaster (who also wrote last year's stage version of the Boston-based crime drama "The Friends of Eddie Coyle") follows his lead, precisely guiding his troupe through the material's dense, sometimes labyrinthine, meanderings.
This is a production with no set or props, and no costume changes, so the actors carry much of the burden in engaging and directing the audience's imagination. In this, they are given apt assistance by sound designer Robin Gabrielli, who lets us know where we are physically (the music becomes muffled when we're on the street) and emotionally (the playlist reflects the play's mercurial moods while revisiting some of the disco era's greatest hits). Anthony R. Phelps and Misaki Nishimiya tend to the lighting scheme, which also helps us localize the action (Inside? Outside? Taking place in objective reality or in Lucky Eric's stressed-out head?)
We get dancing here, and we get some fisticuffs (it's a Saturday night, after all!), and Francisca "Frenchy" Hernandez provides some stylish choreography, while Meron Langsner cooks up some energetic fight action.
Most effective, however, are this ensemble. These four actors gives us low laughs in the men's room, perfectly timed punch lines on the dance floor, starkly sad ruminations, and the funniest "film clip" of Swedish porn ever to grace the stage.
"Bouncers" has added two shows, now continuing at the Cantab Lounge, 738 Massachusetts Avenue in Central Square, through April 28. Show times are Friday and Saturday nights at 8:00 p.m.; doors open at 7:30. The two additional shows will take place Sunday, April 28, at 4:00 p.m. and at 7:00 p.m.
Tickets cost $20 and are available at the door or online at www.stickballproductions.com