A Hedda for Alcohol

athieCallawayMartini

The Yale school of Drama production of Hedda Gabler (reviewed by me for the New Haven Independent, here) was noteworthy for a number of convincing details and character traits brought forth by a talented young ensemble cast. I noted in the review how Mitchell Winter, as the lecherous doctor, picked up a fireplace poker and mimed hitting a golf ball with it, a gesture that helped establish that a fireplace was even there (it was somewhat subdued in Adrian Martinez Frausto’s modernist set) and also demonstrated the doctor’s carefree, flirtatious side.

But I’d like now to point out what for me was the most satisfying moment in the production. It’s when the rebel scholar Lövborg gets drunk. He’s been sober a while, has written an extraordinary book that will undoubtedly bring him fame and fortune, and has won the love and respect of a fine young woman, Thea Elvsted (played at Yale with verve and without self-pity by Tiffany Mack). But he suddenly comes undone when he reunites with an old flame (the play’s selfish title character) and her fuddy-duddy husband.

Lövborg starts drinking, in a dramatic and immediate manner. As played in this production by Mamoudou Athie, he grabbed martinis right out of the hands of the people around him and downed the drinks hurriedly, willing himself to get sozzled all at once.

But that’ s not the cool part. It’s how Athie drank the martinis. He didn’t suck them done like the fake, water-filled faux-cocktails they probably were. He drank them like they were gin martinis. He drank them as if the gin burned his throat from being glugged rather than sipped. He drank them so that the liquid spilled down his chin. He coughed and sputtered.

This is an actor who has studied the fine art of the wrong way of drinking a martini.

There was a martini-quaffing bit in Long Wharf Theatre’s 1998 production of Blithe Spirit which still bothers me 15 years later. Director John Tillinger had inserted a gag where most of the actors leave a scene together, and the remaining one, characterized as a bit of a lush, waits until they’re gone and then hurriedly sucks down their unfinished drinks. He did this as if they were water or soda. It was a false move, an empty gag, a hollow gesture.

In my youth, I drank thousands of dry gin martinis, enjoyed them a great deal, and probably would’ve drunk them quicker if I could have. Mamoudou Athie understood the impulse, and mastered the timing, of such a specific act.

Somebody buy that guy a drink.

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