A hustler’s bridge to babble-on

In The Brink’s debut soiree on the West Bank, ‘Been So Long’ serves up a slice of bar life in the shabby avenues of contemporary London – and plays fast and cheap with Midwestern prudery

by Sara Nicole Miller

Take “Eastenders,” add putrid curry sauce and cussing, plop it in the chamber pot of a bar and stir. Throw into Bedlam Theatre’s greasy-bake oven. Let cool out in the malodorous air of 1990s “In Yer Face” theater genre. Lick the morning sleep-crusties off lips and open wide.

The Brink presents “Been So Long”

WHEN: Through July 22nd
WHERE: Bedlam Theater, 1501 S. 6th St., Minneapolis, (612) 341-1038
TICKETS: $13, $10 (students)

The dish is “Been So Long,” a lopsided, gelatinous meat cake of hearts on sleeves and exchanged body fluids, disillusioned and ale-soaked banter. It’s a delish theatrical tart, equal parts vibrant and sexually aggressive, mincing words and spewing monologues.

And in the seasonal wasteland of a Minnesotan summer, naughty brain massages such as this are in dreadfully short supply. But “Been So Long” and The Brink, the avant-garde, loin-rousing theatrical troupe behind the play, has enough primp and perversity to titillate this prudish tween basement party of a Metropolis.

“These plays have been referred to as an overflowing ashtray being rubbed in someone’s face,” said Justin Williams, co-artistic director for The Brink and director of “Been So Long.”

The Brink, a seedling theater company started by Justin Williams and George McConnell in Florida in 2004, moseyed up here last August, transplanting with them their dreams of producing lollapaloozas of avant-garde and ’90s Brit theater under the Minneapolis skyline. “Been So Long” is their first production about these boroughs, and by the looks of it, Minneapolis might just fall arse over tête for guts, glory and gonorrhea in The Brink’s bag o’ tricks.

Williams and McConnell are all about rocking the cockney vulgarities. “I’m really interested in violence in the theater, and he’s (McConnell’s) very interested in sex in the theater,” Williams said.

Set in current-day London, “Been So Long” looks a lot like the alcoholic teenager to Trainspotting’s junkie 20-something. The Phoenix Bar in London (Bedlam’s actual bar space transformed here) is a cove of misfits and gnarly amoebas: the burly, philosophical bartender Barney (Jeffrey Willis), the jive megalomaniacal Raymond (William Daddario), two young plastic-y broads Simone (Sasha Walloch) and Yvonne (Eleanor Caudill), all gum-popping and pink lipstick, and, ah yes, the crazy psycho-stalker with a Hammer fade, curtly named Gil (George McConnell).

The blasted bar of playwright Che Walker’s fable, steaming with nic fits and loadies, is about to go under due to a lag in business and the hot new yuppie bar across the street. In their remaining hours, the main characters get caught up in each other’s dysfunction and ethos.

They drink. They screw. They threaten each other with busted lager bottles. The dames give way to existential musings about baby daddies and the perils of living in the innards of London.

Gil wants to slice open Raymond’s cheeky throat for stealing his girl. Simone and Raymond begin to tangle in bed. The dialogue is all sass and pomp, but brilliantly on point, witty and cathartic. It’s not too often one hears a seasoned London lass spew a three-minute monologue on “a satyr with a great tree branch for a dick, ya get me?” Think “Saved by the Bell,” sickly hopped up on mescaline and tossed into the Brit cultural pigpen.

The play unfolds at the Bedlam’s actual bar, a solid bird-flip to the fourth wall of traditional theater. The crossing chimes of the Cedar Avenue light-rail station outside add an acoustic touch of grimy Camden town to the barscape. The stage frills give way to scrunched, cabaret seating, where gentlefolk can munch on sun-dried tomato and pecan pizza inches away from the action. They’re quite literally in yer face – when the second beer bottle was smashed, chunks flew into the ether and barely missed my open, edamame-stuffed pie hole. You can practically taste Gil’s doobie breath, or Raymond’s skeezy jail musk.

Simple and sparse, “Been So Long” breathes the thick pea soup fog of the Londoner consciousness with contemporary sexuality and post-feminism dabblings in violence and emotional banditry. In short, it’s the blueprint for a prosaic artifice of a new era of Twin Cities theater.

And The Brink, the new theatrical bloke in town, might just wrangle those straggling, unconventional theater-goers to those fabled flophouses of the mind: riveting, uncouth and full of plump, sex-soaked sass. And if this is any indication of their future gems at the Bedlam, I’ll drink to that.