Since neither youth nor maturity are prerequisites for writing your first full-length play, it is nevertheless encouraging that 57-year-old Dan Klores, a lauded documentary filmmaker, has done just that. Although “Little Doc” is as perplexing in its purpose as it is pedestrian in its presentation, it has moments that convey Klores’s skill with dramatic literature.
Klores, whose fame and fortune has been indelibly linked for many years to his successful Dan Klores Communications firm, has been busy of late redefining his highly profiled life as a theatrical entrepreneur and more significantly as an award-winning documentary filmmaker (“The Boys of 2nd Street Park” 2003, “Ring of Fire”; The Emile Griffith Story, 2005; “Crazy Love,” 2007). “Little Doc” is his first full-length play, and it’s a trip. But I’m not sure it’s a trip that could be called either satisfying or properly guided.
Considering how “Crazy Love” probed into the horrifying how and possibly why of the very bizarre (but true-life) relationship between Burt and Linda Pugach (a story of love, revenge, and reconciliation that helped to fill the tabloids from 1959 to the present), we can see glimpses in his first play of what may have prompted or perhaps even provoked Brooklyn-born Klores to consider, among other things, a potentially incendiary love triangle and how it impacts the wayward and wasted lives of four childhood friends.
This is also a play, however, in which a son’s failure in life is directly attributed to the presumed misconduct and misguidance of his father rather than to his peer associations. The play is at its most interesting as we learn how and why these four friends chose to ignore and disavow their potential. The tie that binds them is fascinating and potentially worthy of more than is dramatized. Whether their excuses are made persuasive is another matter. Much of the dialogue, when it’s coherent, validates the closeness of these friends in their late 20s as exceedingly bright, even with hints of their being intellectually exceptional.
Brooklyn in the 1970s undoubtedly had its problems, but it is in the living room of a one-bedroom apartment under the El and above a tiny neighborhood bar that four childhood friends suddenly find themselves facing a life-threatening situation. It isn’t necessarily their resignation and commitment to the drug and sex culture they’ve collectively embraced and indulged without regret or remorse, but rather the possibility that one of them is a thief.
The action and dialogue of the purely fictional “Little Doc,” under the indulgent direction of John Gould Rubin, would seem to fulfill some of the basic requirements of a play picked for production by the uncompromisingly edgy 15-year-old Rattlestick Playwrights Theater. Although I am happy to report that no one urinates for any prolonged length of time on the stage (as some character did with full-frontal exposure in Adam Rapp’s “Finer Noble Gases”) there is a decided interest and considerable affection at Rattlestick for plays that resist dealing with traditionally acceptable behavior.
So therefore we can be grateful that “Little Doc” keeps things only moderately gross when Billy (Tobias Segal), a young man who is scared of his own shadow pukes with gusto into a sink following an overdose of whatever it was that that he recently swallowed and more recently was shot into his arm by his friend. (I doubt if it was meant to be as funny as the puking scene in “God of Carnage.”)
Billy doesn’t get to say much, but he does get to curl up in a little ball on the sofa as well as in corners of the room while his dearest and closest friends sit around and drink, get high, and say accusatory things that don’t necessarily make sense either to themselves, to each other (and indirectly to us) while becoming progressively more belligerent and intolerant under the influence of an assortment of recently acquired drugs. If there is something to snort, sniff, inhale, or inject, then it’s a reason to party for the insecure Billy, dejected Lenny (Billy Tangradi), bossy Ric (Adam Driver), and Ric’s conflicted girlfriend, Peggy (Joanne Tucker), who was formerly married to Lenny.
At the center of the play is Ric (as played with appropriately condescending authority by Driver), who has apparently given up pursuing a career in the medical profession (hence the title), and in his rebelliousness, taken on a more reckless avocation. Into the mix comes another old acquaintance and neighborhood goon, Angelo (Salvatore Inzerillo), who has recently been released from jail. Angelo, who seems to be unhappy that no one from the neighborhood except Ric wrote to him, has been sent upstairs by oldster Manny (Dave Tawil) the owner of the bar, a small time racketeer and apparent mentor to Ric, to find out who has been stealing from him. He also harbors suspicions about Weasel (Steven Marcus), his long-time friend and a local odds-maker of college basketball games who is also Ric’s father.
A little roughhouse is obligatory as Angelo applies (mercifully unseen) the prescribed methods of interrogation to Billy and Lenny in an adjoining room. The acting responds almost nervously to the demands of the script. However, Inzerillo gives us some scary moments as the thuggish Angelo, and Marcus is believable and defensive, as the appropriately named Weasel. As Lenny, Tangradi endures mightily at the hands of Ric but also has the play’s best line, “Getting high brings millions of people to a better place.” And Tawil is just sinister enough as Manny, the unforgiving Jewish bar owner, to let us know that he is going to make someone suffer.
I was most amused by Tucker’s lengthy (no pun intended) description of Peggy’s first experience performing fellatio, all its ins and outs. Designer David Rockwell’s appropriately seedy-looking set divides the downstairs bar and the upstairs apartment. There is a greater divide and design in the way that Klores defines Ric, as when Manny, whom Ric idolizes, says to Weasel, “I gotta know how his (Ric’s) mind works, how he could be so smart and stupid at the same time.” The play somehow also manages to be both a little smart and a little stupid. Mostly, it just doesn’t live up to either its promise or its premise. **
“Little Doc,” through Sunday, July 18, Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, 224 Waverly Place. $45. 212-868-4444.