by Mitchell Conway · April 15, 2014
Indie Artists on New Plays #73 Mitchell Conway looks at Potion: A Play in Three Cocktails, a production of Stolen Chair The patrons and employees speak-song their attempts towards love at a bar that promises large mood shifts from its concoctions in Potion presented by Stolen Chair. It is scored with catchy music by Sean Cronin with the text semi-rhythmically spoken, maintaining or amplifying the inflection of speech, often repeating phrases, aligned with the music but never fully musical. There is no singing and it does not have the melodic metered control and elegance of good rap. This style of speaking stays at approximately the same pace most of the production. The result is emotionally neutralized; however actors remain present through its execution. This may be a commentary on bar culture as lacking genuine vulnerability, but that clashes with the overall premise of potions opening people to new depths and possibilities. Unless there are no depths, merely shifts?
Over the course of the evening various couples form. Charley the bartender makes a love potion for her boss Tom at the threat of health inspector Mr. Forth closing the place down unless she does so. Played by Jon Froehlich with an enjoyable stuffiness, Forth’s object of design is Emma, played by Molly O’Neill with a beaming presence throughout. Her friend Philip pairs intimately with Andi, while Jim the mustached ironic detached hipster, played by Noah Schultz, remains alone. As Philip, David Skeist is an awkward fellow finding his sexiness through imbibing, and as Andi, Liz Eckert begins as a sullen goth who after a beverage becomes all smiles.
If this bar is a place to attempt personal discovery, then the production’s style seems to indict the achievements of Bacchic revelry. This is not an Ode to Alcohol, but through repetition and stagnancy showing our thoughts as unbeautiful. Kiran Rikhye’s text and Jon Stancato’s direction do not dance, they wobble tipsy and speak slurring too loudly; in a haze we can’t catch the melody.
Mixology Review by Jonah Dill-D’Ascoli:
Throughout Potion, set in what I must say is an excellent bar (the People Lounge has found the perfect balance in its décor between LES speakeasy, apothecary, and still unpretentious bar), three different cocktail-potions created by mixologist Marlo Gamora are offered to the audience: “Curiosity” a heady combination of Rye, Cynar-an Italian artichoke based amaro, and lemon; “On Pins and Needles” a citrusy blend of mezcal-agave spirit from Mexico that is not tequila, green chartreuse, and a chili salt rim; and finally, “Love Potion No. 10” an anise driven mix of Lambrusco, gin, and absinthe.
In “Curiosity” the pairing of Cynar, a bitter, with the high citrus of lemon juice and only the humble honey to balance it left the drink lingering in a slightly unpleasant way. The bitter brought out by the citrus sat on the palate long into the second act without any pleasing sweetness to cut it back down. Sadly, for the workhorse honey, the rye did not offer much to the drink as the subtle flavors of cherry and spice of the base spirit were lost behind the overwhelming onslaught of citrus and amaro.
“On Pins and Needles,” Gamora’s second offering, was definitely the strongest. The smoke of the mezcal came through pleasantly without becoming astringent in the way mezcal’s can and the green chartreuse added an herbaceous complexity without over powering. The drink was lovely to look at with a half chili salt rim which gave the tippler the option of a little heat or not which kept the experience changing and interesting. Lest we forget the ginger beer, which offered a picante feel as well as a light and pleasing sparkle element giving the drink a playful note. Overall the balance and execution were excellent.
Finally, as the performance came to its climax and final movement we were offered the sultry, “Love Potion No. 10” was served. The idea of the ingredients are good: Lambrusco, a sparkling red wine for color, flavor, and bubbles; gin, that Madam Genever of the night that helps mankind forget inhibitions; and absinthe, the anisette flavor of green fairies and dizzying forgetfulness that allows the heart to dance with another. On paper this should be a drink that asks or rather requires you to fall in love, but the delicate balance of wooing the taste buds is lost behind a sea of intellectuality. The absinthe overpowers the drink on the front palate and then carries the drying effects of the tannins in the Lambruso to leave the mouth unkissable. The Lady Gin’s delicate floral femininity is lost as the citrus and again those licorice flavors pull too hard away from the center.
Overall, no one would be disappointed having ordered these drinks--they are well thought out by a craftsman who clearly has an understanding of the tools of his trade. Where they fall down is in the desire to have a second, to continue the evenings tippling by merely uttering, “the same please” rather than stopping to reexamine the cocktail list to find the next potion.