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The ancient aphorism of this review’s title pretty much sums up David Strattan White’s one-man epic poem Gintry, a unique combination of life meditation and boozefest being served up for SoLow Fest 2019 at Quig’s Pub at Plays & Players Theatre.
Written and performed by White, the piece plays to the customers sitting at Quig’s intimate little bar. White takes on the persona of Whitey, a bartender who tells a mean story and mixes a mean cocktail. Telling stories of sad people hiding in a bottle or of people who meet and exchange stories over a drink is an old and venerable tradition, and Whitey does it with gusto, flair, and empathy.
Astute and empathetic poetry
Whitey mixes his own story with those of other people. He recounts how he saved up his money to buy the dive bar he works at, transforming it into a place for exotic cocktails that becomes popular with affluent young urbanites. But Whitey’s success proves to be a double-edged sword. The poorer working-class people who’ve lived in the neighborhood for years view Whitey’s new customers with suspicion and hostility as the first wave of gentrification, which will ultimately displace them from their homes, as has happened to many working-class neighborhoods.
White’s script is very astute and empathetic, keenly conscious of the complexities of social status and race. What adds an additional layer of theatricality is that the entire 50-minute monologue is told in metered rhyme. The poetry is, at times, uneven. But there are times when the poetry lends the story an almost Shakespearean grace, while at other times the story’s impact is intensified with an urban hip-hop grittiness. It was an audacious choice by the playwright and White mostly pulls it off, both as the writer and as the performer.
Do dinner first
As a performer, White is impressive. He is charming, funny and friendly, as any good dive bartender should be, but when the stories get serious, White’s expressions of empathy and understanding tug at the heartstrings. If there are any shortcomings, it could be that director Brenna Geffers missed a few nuanced cues that could have deepened the emotional impact at points.
Did I mention the booze? To enhance the veracity of the experience, throughout the course of the play, White mixes up a series of bizarre concoctions for the audience to imbibe. Presumably these are the exotic cocktails that are making Whitey’s bar so popular. Not all of these drinks were to my taste, especially given my low tolerance for chili peppers. However, the drinks come at such a rate that I highly recommend you eat something before attending a performance.
And I do recommend you attend a performance. Gintry is one of those quirky yet creative and substantive works one would expect to see at the SoLow Fest, an annual Fringe-esque festival that takes place every June at various nontraditional venues throughout Philadelphia. If the rest of SoLow’s offerings are of the caliber of Gintry, then the Fringe Festival may face some real competition in the near future.
What, When, Where
Gintry: A Play with Drinks. Written and performed by David Strattan White, directed by Brenna Geffers. Through June 23, 2019, at Quig’s Pub at Plays & Players Theatre, 1714 Delancey Street, Philadelphia. die-castphilly.org/gintry.
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