“Revival” by Carla Neuss

By Analyn Revilla

The First Manifesto of the Cocktail Nation:We, the Citizens of the Cocktail Nation, do hereby declare our independence from the dessicated horde of mummified uniformity – our freedom from an existence of abject swinglessness. We pledge to revolt against the void of dictated sobriety and to cultivate not riches but richness, swankness, suaveness and strangeness, with pleasure and boldness for all.


— The Millionaire of Combustible Edison

(Glenn, Joshua. “Cocktail Nation; Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Just Be Fabulous.” Utne Reader 65 (September/October 1994)

“Revival” is featuring at the Acting Artist’s Theatre in West Hollywood and it opened last Sunday, January 18th. Carla Neuss and I had a conversation on the weekend before it opened. She arrived from Friday’s rehearsal, and seemed focused and relaxed. It was the first rehearsal without any glitch. She produced and directed the play for its premiere in Los Angeles. The play was featured in Oxford in 2010, and was the winner of the 2010 Oxford New Writing Festival.

The inspiration of the play was the revival of cocktail lounge culture that emerged in the 1990’s. She started writing the play around 2009, at a time when she was looking to work on a lighter piece apart from her thesis. From her experience of working in a bar and dating a bartender in Oxford, she taught the actor who plays Crispin how to properly mix drinks.  There are specific order and techniques in making a cocktail. The magic potion is a combination of three things. Similar to the creation of a new perfume that has its base notes, middle notes and high notes –  a cocktail has the base spirit that is the main flavor of the drink, the modifier/mixer that blends with the base without overpowering it, and a flavoring that rounds out the whole packaging.

A mixologist is a craftsman like an artisan of food, pottery or glassmaking. He considers the environment and its inhabitants when creating the concoction. The play begins with Tyler, a regular patron of the unnamed bar, and he tells a story about being a knight errant. An angel offers him a chalice brimful of potion to regain his strength. He asks Crispin “make me that drink.” There are four rules that patrons of the bar must abide by. Rule #4 is drink requests are not permitted. “Only stories or inclinations should be presented to the bartender for him to utilize or ignore at his discretion.”

One of the challenges of producing this play was finding the right actor to play Crispin. The play is 90 minutes long without any intermission, and Crispin is onstage at all times while patrons arrive and leave. With each entrance and departure they spin a web of their realities, dreams, aspirations and woes. Crispin works to enhance their stories with his custom made drinks. Carla told me that she had to reach out to Ben Moroski with whom she collaborated with on another project last year. When casting the role she sought someone who had a strong presence without the showmanship. The role of Crispin needs an actor who can be the eye of the storm while the other characters whirl in the vortex around him with their pretenses and their stumbling truths.

I asked Carla how she chose to collaborate on projects.  She said she’s only been back in California for a year, having spent the previous 4 years in Oxford. She’s building her network from word of mouth. I heard about the play from James Svatko, the actor who plays Fred in “Revival”. James was the producer and director of “The Last Train” a play written by Natacha Astuto. I told James it was delightful to see him another role wearing a jacket instead of his prison cell overalls (from ‘The Last Train’). After the opening performance last Sunday, James and I had a brief moment to greet each other at Harlowe’s, the bar next door to the theatre.

I asked Carla if there was any particular group that she hoped to attract with this play. The context of the question is that most theater goers I’ve seen at Ahmanson, Geffen and Pasadena Playhouse are in the mature age range. We agreed that theater competes with other genres of entertainment. As an art form a play asks of its audience to invest intellectually, and draw upon their experiences and imagination to understand what it is about. The audience can be moved by a scene, but understanding what the play is all about is challenging. Perhaps the topic of mixology can attract some of the younger crowd, especially the cocktail lounge culture. On opening night, the play’s program can be used to get a ten percent discount on a customized cocktail at Harlowe’s. (I don’t know if this applies throughout the run of the play.)

A mysterious liqueur in the play has its own revival in history. Crispin, in his quest to help the world transcend beyond the ordinary life had found Crème Yvette on e-Bay. The liqueur had not been produced since 1969. The setting of the play does not refer to a specific period, but it probably occurs before the 2009 when the production of the liqueur was revived by the Cooper Spirits Company. The arrival of the box that holds the precious nectar made from raspberries, wild strawberries, blackberries, and cassis from the famed Aquitaine region and blended with dried violet petals is a ceremony. Crispin puts on ethereal music, (Arvo Part’s “Spiegel im Spiegel”) on the turntable, then lays out a lace mantle. He pours the violet-garnet hued Crème Yvette into a crystal glass and takes his first sip.

The cult of the cocktail is a successful religious ceremony transformed into a secular rite. The bartender is the high priest, the drink is the sacramental cup, and the cocktail lounge is akin to a temple or cathedral that uses lights, music, and even ceiling fixtures to reinforce moods of comfort and inspiration.(Lanza, Joseph. “Set ’em Up, Joe: A Cocktail Primer.” Esquire, 127.4 (April 1997): 74 – 75)

Crispin’s bar is this place of transformation. What is a story without the heat between a man and woman? Enter Jo, a beautiful young woman played by Adrienne Whitney. She supports her studies in literature as an escort. She uses the bar as a regular spot for her rendez-vous, but she’s also attracted to Crispin. She becomes a catalyst to change the homeostasis of the bar. Victor Gurevech plays Tyler, the young dreamer who voraciously upholds the rules of the bar. Tyler looks to Crispin for relief from the mundane world. Joseph Martone plays two supporting roles, both as escorts of Jo. He did marvelously in maintaining his composure when his moustache slipped from his upper lip to cover his mouth just as he was to start a story.  Then there is the pastor, Fred, (played by James Svatko).   Fred is simply a man who needs a break from his job description ‘to love all people’.

Crispin listens to their stories and mixes their drinks.  The customers’ wear their lives on their jackets, ties, costumes and breathes it out through their skin. Their realities mix with the sanctity of Crispin’s bar.  The revival is opening the eyes to our humanity while striving for perfection.

 “There’s a feeling you can get sometimes… something triggers it and you suddenly feel all your fingers and toes and you loop up and the people around you are smiling and you are talking about something big and important and beautiful and the world feels like not a such a bad place to live after all – it feels like it was meant to be good…” – Crispin (from “Revival”).

Revival is playing on weekends from  January 18 at 8pm and will continue on Saturdays, January 24, 31, and February 7 at 3pm and 8pm.

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