Cold, dark and full of spice. No, that is not a summation of The Imbible: A Spirited History of Drinking. Rather, those are the qualities of a Rusty Ale, a cocktail made with Drambuie and beer. Audience members, over the age of 21, are treated to a healthy 8-ounce glassful of the tasty quaff as they enter the Celebration of Whimsy theater down on Clinton Street, amid the happy clatter of ice being scooped. Additionally, over the course of this 90 minute lecture cum barbershop quartet, they are also served a gin and tonic, and a Drambuie Old Fashioned with Angostura bitters. (Drambuie, as one might discern from this generous product placement, is the sponsor of the show, its logo emblazoned on the plastic glass, but mercifully downplayed on stage.) You gotta have a gimmick, and if that gimmick involves loosening up a crowd with a few potent potables, then so be it. In Manhattan, three drinks for an $18 ticket is fair enough. But when they come served with four-part harmonies, the scientific exploration of distillation, and an homage to Gloria Gaynor, the resulting deal is one of the best bets for a fun and fact-filled outing at this year’s New York International Fringe Festival.
The show itself is a warm, light and often charming concoction. Tracing the story of drink from Noah’s vineyards up to today’s cocktail culture renaissance, The Bartender (Anthony Caporale) interacts with the audience like a college professor gone rogue, calling out for answers (“What is the boiling point of water?”), and rewarding his students with both praise and booze. Quite a bit of information actually is passed on between rounds, from what should have been obvious, but was not (that “toxic” is enrooted in “intoxication” for a reason), to the history of how gin came to meet tonic in British colonial India, where luckily there was no shortage of limes, to the lasting effects that Prohibition has had on our taste for drink (An Old Fashioned, it turns out, is not only sweet, but also sentimental.).
Whenever there is the least threat of science bearing down too heavily on the festivities, The Bartender is joined by The Backwaiters, a Soprano, an Alto and a Bass (Nicole DiMattei, Ruthellen Cheney and Ariel Estrada, respectively), and the four break out into song. Admittedly, this device worked much better after the third drink than it did before the first. Still, all the voices were top shelf, whether crooning classics like Down by the Old Mill Stream, or forsaking Adeline to profess their love to yeast byproducts in a tune called Sweet Ethanol. The drink swilling audience, finding it difficult to clap while holding their cups, often resorted to gleeful whooping. And when the correlation between drunkenness and the need to sing and dance came into focus as the reason for Karaoke, a mirror ball kicked in to properly light a spirited rendition of I Will Survive.
A jovial master of ceremonies with a thing for Star Wars and Windows operating systems, Caporale’s acting resume is, at best, spare, but his experience with spirits more than compensates. He is currently the Director of Beverage Studies at New York’s Institute of Culinary Education, and his past credits include being Beverage Manager for Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill and General Manager of Forty Eight Lounge in Rockefeller Plaza. Those who were not seeing double by the end of the evening could learn from the program that he also serves as the U.S Brand Ambassador for Drambuie. Craving a second Rusty Ale after an enjoyable night at the theater, I say mission accomplished, sir, and well served.
The Imbible: A Spirited History of Drinking – By Anthony Caporale; Directed by Nicole DiMattei.
WITH: Anthony Caporale, Ruthellen Cheney, Nicole DiMattei and Ariel Estrada.
Arranger and Musical Director, Josh Ehrlich; Stage Manager, Kelly McGrath, Beverage Manager, Kyle Garson; At the Celebration Of Whimsy, 21-A Clinton St, 917-972-9394, Remaining Performances – Saturday, August 16 at 5:15 pm, Wednesday, August 20 at 4:00 pm, Saturday, August 23 at 12:45 pm, http://www.fringenyc.org, Running Time: 1 hour 30 minutes.