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The cast of Scotch and Water
When a man storms into a bar with a gun, a drink is the only way to calm him down. Or so we are led to believe in Brett C. Leonard's Scotch and Water, a play aiming to prove that alcohol is the solution to all problems.

Such a sinister moral can only spring from a dark comedy housed in an actual East Village bar. At first glance, the Parkside Lounge is just like any other bar: a bartender serves drinks, a few patrons sit at the counter, and a man is shooting pool off to the left. Along the back of the room are chairs set up specifically for the audience, and only when they begin to take their seats does the distinction between the audience and the cast become clear. This set-up aims to make the audience feel as though they're part of the scene, merely listening in on the conversations between the main characters.

Max Casella, best known for playing Vinnie on Doogie Howser, M.D., earns laughs as the whiny Timmy, a supposed bowling star who comes to the bar to shoot pool. Bob (Stephen Adly Guirgis) and Jim (David Zayas) offer few details about their lives outside the bar but manage to start an amusing argument about baseball trivia. Just when it seems that the play is nothing more than an episode of Cheers with foul language, Danny (Trevor Long) enters with his gun and demands money.

At this point, the style of Leonard's play changes from realistic to strange. Timmy is the only patron to cower in fear of being shot; everyone else goes about his business as if Danny is one of the gang, playing a joke on them. Jack the bartender (Scott Sowers) pretends not to hear Danny's demands and continues to serve Charlie (Mark Hammer), an older, disabled man who sits at the counter in his wheelchair and ignores everybody. Helen (Gloria Harper) stays mum for the first half of the play, making it unclear why director Paul Smithyman didn't wait longer to bring her on stage.

Scotch and Water remains entertaining despite the unlikelihood of these reactions because it never loses its comic edge. While Bob and Jim make fun of the man holding a gun to their heads, Timmy crawls under the pool table begging to be saved. Fed up with Timmy's nervousness, his friends humorously convince him that a man with a gun is nothing to fear. Meanwhile, a frustrated Danny waves the gun around and wonders what it takes to actually scare people.

At times, the play tries to show a little heart, allowing Charlie and Helen to explain the events and situations that brought them to where they are. But tenderness is not something that a dark comedy wants to promote. Just when each character is finally content and ready to go on, Scotch and Water serves up a shocking ending that kills any glimmer of hope. Maybe the real point of the story is that if a play depresses you enough, you'll want to get drunk after seeing it.

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