Despite living in such a creative city, there is often a dearth of original content on stages in Austin, which means when a new play does come into the limelight, it’s a time for celebration. A. John Boulanger has already wowed audiences earlier this year with his production, A Writers Vision(s), and also received heavy acclaim nationwide for his previous work, House of Several Stories, and now he takes to the Hyde Park stage, taking both the writing and directing seat, with the heartbreaking comedy, Down the Drain. Bringing together some of the most talented actors in town, Boulanger creates a work that is at times side-splittingly hilarious, at times soul-shattering emotional, but always memorable, creating one of the most fascinating journeys many audiences will take this year.
Down the Drain begins with down-on-his-luck Ted lying on his bathroom floor when suddenly, after a short earthquake, he begins to hear a voice from his toilet. This voice turns out to be coming from a woman in Utah, who is just as surprised to discover the man’s voice coming out of her sink. Though their relationship begins in confusion, the two start a fast friendship, through which we find deeply personal information about each of the characters. The play takes a turn to the dark in the later stages of the play as deep buried secrets are unearthed, which lead the characters down a spiralling journey into death and Pinteresque madness.
Despite the oddness of the premise, it never feels fake or convoluted, thanks in part to the clever and witty writing of Boulanger, but also because of the excellent performances of the two leads. Martin Burke and Meredith McCall have played with each other more than once on stage, most recently in both Santaland Diaries and The Drowsy Chaperone at Zach Theatre, but here we see different sides to each of the actors. While Burke may be best known for his over-the-top, comical performances, here we see this extravagant energy channeled into more emotional avenues. Though he does ham it up at times, bringing laughs early and often, he also takes us on a very touching, intimate journey, centering on one of the most horrible diseases to attack the gay community. McCall also shows why she’s one of the top actresses in town here, showing off a remarkable deadpan sarcasm that plays perfectly off Burke’s energetic performance, creating a splendid chemistry that plays like the most intriguing game of ping pong you’ll ever see.
It isn’t just the two leads who shine here, however, as the supporting cast also bring the laughs throughout. In particular, Breanna Stogner steals many scenes, playing the hilarious phone operator Rachel, as well as many other characters, creating some of the most hilarious moments in the play almost every time she is on stage. She shows herself to be a versatile performer, throwing on and off costumes, and accents, playing up the farce to give a new dimension to the play. Also adding another dimension to the play is Judd Farris, who is currently pulling double duty as Ryan in Hidden Room Theatre’s You Wouldn’t Know Her, She Lives in Edinburgh, who here plays Ted’s brother. Coming as close to an everyman as the play can get, Farris is a pleasant diversion from the many absurdist elements which inhabits Boulanger’s work, while also getting a few laughs from the audience when they need it most, most of these surprising moments hitting the audience like a bolt of lightning out of the blue.
Down the Drain is one of those rare plays where it seems like all the pieces come together perfectly. Boulanger brings together a fantastic cast, a script full of wit and pathos, and thoughtful scene design by Ia Enstera, to create a show that’s diverse and original, always giving the audience something new. to explore. The play cements Boulanger as one of the best writers in town, and is sure to be talked about again come awards time.
Down the Drain is playing at Hyde Park Theatre through August 28th. For more information, and to purchase tickets, be sure to visit their site at it-productions.org.