It’s no secret that people who drink too much will lose all restraint and say some pretty rude things to each other. Playwright David MacGregor, a member of Jeff Daniels’s Purple Rose Theater in Michigan, has fashioned a play out of that notion, Vino Veritas, now in a West Coast premiere at Theater 40.
The set-up is this: four middle-aged friends and neighbors get together on Halloween night to enjoy drinks and snacks before going off to a costume party. This annual event is turned upside-down when one of them, Lauren (Christine Joelle), passes around a bottle of Peruvian ceremonial wine made from the skin of blue dart-tree frogs. The hooch is a kind of truth serum and therefore dangerous to politeness and common sense.
The more blue wine they imbibe, the more they rip into each other verbally, probing, attacking and insulting. Inhibitions are forgotten, friendships as well; pretenses are punctured, values ridiculed. It’s shocking to watch them go at each other like tag-team wrestlers — but you also can’t help laughing at the antics of these poor, silly mortals.
There are some moments of drama in Vino Veritas, especially when one of the women admits to having had an abortion, but for the most part, MacGregor and his adroit cast have fun with the truth-telling, playing it for laughs.
Michelle Young’s costumes are a hoot: Claire (Kirsten Kollender) parades around in the garb of a Tudor Queen; hostess Lauren resembles a typical Halloween witch. Her conventional, pizza-loving husband Phil (Shawn Savage) eschews dressing up; ditto Claire’s snobby husband, Ridley (Daniel Kaemon) who merely wears his day-job attire (a doctor’s jacket and stethoscope).
The task of orchestrating these contrasting characters — and the playwright’s mixture of absurdity and reality — fell to director Michael Karm. Thanks to his long experience in the theater — he first began directing (and acting) in 1968 — Karm was able to rise to the challenge and make Vino Veritas work. He was helped immeasurably by Jeff G. Rack’s handsome, sumptuous set.
Christine Joelle, Shawn Savage, Daniel Kaemon, Kirsten Kollender
Set: Jeff G. Rack; Costumes: Michele Young. Sound: Joseph Slawinski
Willard Manus for Total Theater