Andrew Weems in Damascus
(© Kate Eminger)
Andrew Weems in Damascus
(© Kate Eminger)
Andrew Weems' new one-man show, Damascus, now at the Fourth Street Theatre, is a vivid portrait of an aging alcoholic slacker as he hits rock bottom. While Weems expertly captures the essence of a certain well-traveled, well-educated, downwardly-mobile class of Americans, the takeaway of his journey is not entirely clear.

The stage is sparse, with Weems usually seated behind a no-frills desk in a manner reminiscent of Spalding Gray. He tells us about his childhood in India, his love of beer, his assistant manager position at a New York City bookstore, and his wholly-inappropriate crush on a seemingly much younger girl who works there.

This is not a sympathetic protagonist: his sudden outbursts of rage, insatiable need for the bottle, and general laziness are scowl-inducing throughout the entirety of this two-act, 90-minute affair.

The second act is almost entirely dedicated to the recounting of a magazine article our protagonist read in a Dunkin' Donuts after spending a night sleeping in the park. It tells the story of Alexander, a man with a research grant to interview the son of a Tamil separatist leader in India, but who actually hates his job and hates India.

However, after viewing an energetic theater piece put on by some impoverished children, Alexander sees the light. One wonders, though, whether or not any old story would have a profound effect on someone after his first night of homelessness. (Perhaps this is why so many recovering addicts turn to religion.)

Weems has a real gift for imagery, and the places he describes and the people he embodies are easy to imagine on Neil Patel's utilitarian set. He also proves to be an actor with a knack for dialects.

With a title as loaded as Damascus -- which likely refers to the apostle Paul's biblical journey -- the Syrian uprising half a world away is the elephant in the room. This elephant occasionally makes itself apparent, through a Syrian cab driver that takes our protagonist and his brother from JFK Airport to Inwood or an American flag-waving Arab family he encounters in the subway.

However, the connection is never fully explicated, and it may be hard for some audience members not to contrast the life-imperiling efforts of Syrian protesters to create a better country for their posterity with the boozy quotidian concerns of our protagonist.