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Driven to Drink

Now that the '90s Ecstasy craze is mostly behind us (with a few glowstick-waving exceptions), the cultural ugliness of the 1980s still lingers like the white powder on the upper lip of a harried Wall Street broker. To be sure, the cultural equilibrium of the Clinton years is but a suppressed memory as we enter a new era of corporate greed, trickle-down economics, and moral vanity. That's exactly why Eric Bogosian's Drinking in America is more relevant now than when it was written two decades ago.

The 12-character, two-man collection of monologues looks at the various forms of chemical consumption and how they often ran along class lines, from back-office cocaine parties to back-alley binge-drinking. While the characters are intriguing and amusing in themselves, Drinking in America places each situation within the larger historical context, exploring the social stigma attached to different drugs. For instance, the hypocrisy of cokeheads looking down on junkies for using needles (track marks, nose bleeds -- what's the difference?). Characters include a dope-addicted blues musician; a homeless man who fills the streets with incessant moaning about the American dream as he prepares to pass out on the sidewalk; a two-timing traveling salesman who takes his marital frustrations to an escort; and a would-be preacher who rails against blacks, gays, abortion clinics, and other unfortunate bogeymen of the religious right.

Conceived while Ronald Reagan was still in office, Drinking was largely inspired by Republican shenanigans of the day. However, while Bogosian certainly was no fan of Reagan, his distaste for the current president is even greater. "Reagan was pre-Alzheimer's and George Bush is pre-straitjacket," he says, referring to Bush the younger. "There was a method to Reagan's madness; he simply wanted to bankrupt America so we would be forced to end social programs. George Bush is 20 years down the line, trying to destroy America altogether so as to end our society as we know it."

If you think that sounds pessimistic, perhaps your TV wasn't working while Dubya dissed Social Security in his morbid State of the Union Address. Nonetheless, bad policies make for good art, and Bogosian isn't worried about Drinking becoming irrelevant any time soon. "The Republicans have a long-term plan," he says, adding that their vision includes the erosion of civil rights and public education. "The plan is now coming to full flower with a population of people too ignorant to realize they're being ripped off."

But as long as Bogosian's monologues are performed, the downtrodden will have an opposing voice -- even if they're still voting against their economic interests. Just take it from the street-walking character in the final monologue who ponders the social food chain after having lost all he owns: "Can't be on top, unless there's a bottom somewhere." Too bad the easiest solution is to down a bottle of Jack Daniels. Though, if you're buying...

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Jason Budjinski

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