"Dear Lord, when we drink and write," the performing duo of Sean Benjamin and Steve Mosqueda intone at the start of their latest Drinking & Writing Theater project, before offering the solemn promise to "write until we puke" or at least "puke until we write."
Ten years strong but as loose as ever, their ongoing Drinking & Writing venture (performed in the backroom of the Haymarket Pub & Brewery) is still an appealing blend of high-minded intellectualism and the protean pleasures of alcohol. This time out, they've narrowed their focus to sports, a slice of life that has its fair share of boozy athletes and sports writers, including former Tribune scribe Ring Lardner, whose evocative portrayals of baseball in the early 20th century coalesced in his book "You Know Me Al" from 1916.
Benjamin and Mosqueda don't bring Lardner to life so much as offer a brief history lesson on the guy. They also miss an opportunity to explore the storytelling possibilities inherent in the true-life anecdote they recount from the '70s about two New York Yankees who swapped families. The show is structured, per usual, as an informal conversation, and after all this time I can't help wondering why Drinking & Writing doesn't occupy a better middle ground between informal and sloppy. But the pair gets certain details right, entering to the sounds of "Let's Get Ready to Rumble," a cliche nicely undercut when Benjamin's intro includes a hilariously long list of community colleges on his resume. The matching camel hair blazers (with Drinking & Writing patches on the left breast pocket) function as an amused nod to the bygone era of ABC's "Wide World of Sports."
But for all the show's topical variety (including the story of Sidney Franklin, the first American to become a successful bullfighter in Spain) and Malort shots consumed, it is only when the show turns personal that it finds its footing. I was struck by Benjamin's memory of a weekend spent, years ago, at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, Conn., where he passed a long wine-soaked night challenging anyone he could find to an arm-wrestling bout, before stumbling back to his hotel room and destroying his bed linens. It is a story of a restless man looking for that next distraction, unwilling to call it a night, unable to be alone with his thoughts, and it is the most fully realized moment of the show.
Open run at the Haymarket Pub & Brewery, 737 W. Randolph St. Tickets are $15 at drinkingandwriting.com.
"Henry Moore Is Melting"
Stories about small-time crooks and their insular worlds tend to work well on the theatrical fringe. "Henry Moore Is Melting," by Jenny Seidelman, offers a slightly new variation on the theme, with its focus on Irish Travellers, a nomadic ethnic or social group of Irish origins (also known as Pavee) that tends to keep to itself.
Seidelman's focus is on the male species of this particular subset of Irish Travellers. Idiots. Thugs. Dreamers. The script is based on a story of actual thieves who absconded with a metal sculpture by British artist Henry Moore (the "Reclining Figure," valued at 3 million British pounds) and allegedly sold it to a scrap dealer for the equivalent of few hundred dollars. In Seidelman's fictionalized version, the heist turns deadly when an art-loving minion has second thoughts about the scam.
Intriguing as the premise may be, it lacks any sort of narrative traction. Things will end badly. That is never in doubt with these types of stories. But the script has a rote and plodding quality and never reaches a climax in storytelling terms. The performances help some; the ensemble is just low-key enough to suggest complicated inner lives of their characters (including an introspective moment between two brothers), and director Mikey Laird's production for Cold Basement Dramatics has all the right kind of gritty atmospherics.
Through Sunday at the Athenaeum Theater, 2936 N. Southport Ave. Tickets are $22 at athenaeumtheatre.org.