by Liz Richards · August 10, 2014
"More fringe shows should include a cocktail," I told a friend the week before seeing The Imbible. This show greets you in the lobby with one, a mixed drink of the playwright's own invention called a Rusty Ale: India Pale Ale with a shot of Drambuie (one of the show's sponsors). An unusual choice, but it's a nice way to introduce the first scene of the play, on the chemical reactions of yeast and sugar and how fermented bacterial waste becomes the beer we enjoy today. It's a lot of science very fast, but at this point you're still on drink #1.
Anthony Caporale, the playwright and lead Bartender for the evening, covers 10,000 years of cocktail culture, from the discovery of yeast to the modern-day "Disneyfied" speakeasy one can find every 3 blocks in New York. The history lesson also spans the globe, with stops in India, Egypt, and England, all with corresponding musical interludes. He knows his stuff, too; as the Director of Beverage Studies at the Institute of Culinary Education, he's given lectures at Google and the Manhattan Cocktail Classic. Plus, he's a charming host: a little Alton Brown, a little Bill Nye, and a little your goofy uncle. It's easy to picture him chatting up patrons and solving their problems from behind the bar.
He's backed by a trio of actor-bartenders (of course) who sing, dance, and even assemble a science project to accentuate his points. Though they're mainly there to provide backup for Mr. Caporale, literally and figuratively (did I mention he also studied opera?), each manages to find a time to shine. Nicole DiMattei's expressive face is a joy to watch as a cavewoman discovering beer, and Ariel Estrada made me laugh with his enthusiasm for dear ol' Ethyl (alcohol, that is). Ruthellen Cheney has a strong and seductive voice that shone during her solo of "The Streets in Cairo". They all keep the show moving quickly and provide lots of visual interest. This show never turns into a dry lecture!
We enjoyed two more significant drinks during this show. (Don't worry, they're small.) An Old Fashioned, considered the first cocktail, leads into a discussion of invention of spirits and the difference between a cocktail and a mixed drink. A gin and tonic near the end of the show brought up what became my favorite part of the show, about the rise of cocktail culture, Prohibition, and how Americans relearned how to enjoy spirits post-Prohibition. We hear a lot about Prohibition in American history, but the way it came about and then how the liquor industry came out of it afterwards was fascinating.
The Imbible is a brisk and entertaining piece that will provide you with plenty of bar trivia, and really, who doesn't need more of that?