Hirsute sage Kris Kristofferson once penned (presumably with shaky hands): I woke up Sunday morning, with no way to hold my head that didn't hurt. And the beer I had for breakfast wasn't bad, so I had one more for dessert. Admittedly it's not Wordsworth, but if that passage evokes a particular dry-mouthed, eyes-aching sensation for you, you've at least once ridden the hot rails of an alcohol-drenched Saturday night (and felt the operatic consequences the following morning).
A smashed hit: Alyssa Szarkowski, Adam Qualls, Mike Rylander, and Michael Venske
Bye Bye Liver: The Twin Cities' Drinking Play Hennepin Theatre Trust and Actor's Theatre of Minnesota at Hennepin Stages through July 31
Bye Bye Liver, a slight piece of comedic theater, manages to occupy itself with the sole subject matter of alcohol consumption without once, in its 75-minute length, resorting to hangover jokes. Which is appropriate: Here's a show preoccupied with getting hammered, in all its varied forms, with no mind for the consequences. Somewhere Jim Beam and Jack Daniel nod with approval.
We have the barest of setups: A beaming and distinctly sinister Mike Rylander announces himself as barkeep and de facto emcee for the evening, joined by the fetching and vaguely dangerous Alyssa Szarkowski. The audience is welcomed to a bar and table service and generally exhorted to consume as much booze as possible (the show includes drinking games, which, Rylander notes with appropriate irony, give you sanction to chug the drink you just paid for yourself).
A couple of thoughts emerged early. First, I would have liked a piece of the bar receipts for the evening—folks in the filled-up Hennepin Stages were drinking like it was going out of style, downing mixed drinks and returning to their tables with literal buckets of iced bottled brews. Second, this endeavor seemed like a stroke of genius: Why not stack the deck by insisting your audience get wall-eyed, since things tend to get funnier (for a while) with the copious ingestion of alcohol?
Having decided that the only thing sadder than a critic sitting by himself at this gathering was a critic sitting by himself and drinking, I opted to take the show on its own merits. Which meant that my experience differed from that of just about everyone else in the room (including the older fellow a couple tables over who, about halfway through, began narrating the happenings onstage without using his indoor voice).
It turns out to be quite a decent show, besotted yet sharp (like the sweet spot of a bender before things get messy). This local iteration (other versions are running in Chicago and Milwaukee) is directed by John Haynes, with a five-member cast drawing experience from local yuk factories such as Stevie Ray's and the Brave New Workshop. They know how to work a crowd, and each sketch evinces polish as well as a sense of when to stop before fatigue sets in.
So we have Adam Qualls in appalling drag infiltrating the ladies' room for some inter-gender eavesdropping, and Laura Mahler depicting the stages of lunacy in a woman who should probably permanently abstain from drinking (while the terrified Michael Venske bears the brunt). Rylander, who also works as in-house entertainment for the Timberwolves, looks on with diabolical glee.
And it is the devilish side of party time that we end up celebrating. There are more than a few weird, off-key sucker punches amid the dialogue (including multiple references to the effect of booze on male sexual performance, har har), which are welcome hints of the cheery darkness that accompanies any decent spree. And if the subject matter is hardly groundbreaking, it seems laboratory-tested to entertain a room full of people specifically embarked on inebriation. Bottoms up.