My program for Ben Clawson's play The Virilogy includes an interesting section in the lower right corner entitled "The Virology Drinking Game." It encourages you to pick one of the characters and drink when they drink throughout the show. With three charming actors and an entertaining show, you should not need this incentive to pick up some tickets, but this game does set the tone of this Horse Trade presentation of StrangeDog Theatre Company's production.
Drinking Game paperwork in hand, we are introduced to Brian (Scott Cagney), Stu (David Murgittroyd), and Quinn (Alejandro Hernandez) with a musical interlude that takes us back to a time before flip cell-phones were cool. After the song is finished, the scene begins with the realization that Quinn has broken up with his girlfriend and Brian and Stu need to comfort him. This becomes the overall structure of the piece: a song to set the mood and time and then a scene about one of the three friends going through a breakup.
Though this might not seem revolutionary, this show has fantastic energy, and I was thoroughly engaged the whole time. Clawson's writing captures the balance between the easy banter of a group of old friends and the awkwardness of their attempts to discuss their feelings. Of course, the writing is brought to life as Cagney, Murgittroyd, and Hernandez let the action flow organically.
Director Artem Yatsunov and these three actors make the show a joy to watch. StrangeDog's website pitches The Virilogy as a play "with nothing on its mind," and to a certain extent that is true. It's the kind of show that does not present itself as a metaphor for society, but rather points out some of the absurdities of everyday life.
The characters are well developed, and you see them grow over time, yet the play stops short of moralizing. These guys make mistakes, but there is a compassion for all of them expressed by the playwright and the actors that transfers to the audience. In the end, the parallel dialogue from the first and the final chapters show us that these men are all simply human.
I will say that it is an interesting choice to break the piece up with a brief intermission after each chapter. The show runs about an hour and a half total with these breaks, but I wonder what would change about it if they ran together without any pauses. These did not lessen my enjoyment of the play, and I had plenty to talk about and reflect on in these breaks, but it was unusual and I'm not certain it was necessary.
Also, if these breaks were meant to help with the illusion of time passing, they were not entirely successful. I had mentioned the music as providing a vague placement in time, but these could also be more specific. We don't know exactly where or when these events are taking place, though we do learn it has been seven years from the first scene to the last. When everything else about these characters is so specific, it couldn't hurt to know these details as well. I always say that one of the most counterintuitive parts of theatre for me is that sometimes the most specific works are the ones that end up feeling the most universal. These specific relationships and experiences are not only from a New Jersey suburb (which is where I assumed they were taking place because of the company's New Jersey roots), but it could help to know the context of that place so that connections to other lives can be drawn.
These are minor details in a show that is smart in its simplicity, and the overall genius of this production is its ability to make this work look easy. If you want to have a fun night at the theatre with or without your thinking caps, head over to The Virilogy.