On a recent Friday night, I sat sipping my Summit while watching a young couple engage in a drunken public spat. The woman had taken one too many shots and was about to let the liquor do the talking.
Like everyone else around me, I sat there riveted. The woman had been slamming shots of Jagermeister and Jack Daniels like they were heat-seeking missiles ready to explode. Boom. They detonated and she let loose a cacophony of insults, most unfit to print. Let's just say her final blow compared the boyfriend's manhood to the slender dimensions of a ballpoint pen. Ouch.
I laughed and just about everyone else in the room did, too. The response was encouraged -- we were watching a play, after all.
But this didn't seem like any other play I'd seen. Being that it was a sketch comedy, intermission came every 10 minutes. Drinking games filled the downtime. Sex jokes filled the sketches. All and all, it was an evening overflowing with debauchery.
In other words: My kind of theater. In its fourth week, "Bye Bye Liver: The Twin Cities' Drinking Play" has been drawing crowds to the intimate Hennepin Stages theater. In the 75-minute show, a young cast moves through a half-dozen sketches, each an exposition on the drunken, hilarious situations we've been witness to or experienced ourselves.
The language is lewd and the humor can be crude. As one of the actors, Mike Rylander, told me:
"We're not doing high Shakespeare art. It's an interactive drinking show."
"Bye Bye Liver" was created four years ago in Chicago by playwright Byron Hatfield. By phone last week, he told me six years of college proved to be "research" well spent. His Pub Theater Company performs the comedy four times a week and has recently expanded to Milwaukee and St. Louis. Minneapolis is the first franchised version, this one put on by the Actors Theater of Minnesota and Hennepin Theatre Trust.
While the comedy is lighthearted, Hatfield said his idea for "Bye Bye Liver" came from a more serious place. He hopes this sort of play can get young patrons invested in the future of the art form he loves. "We call it a gateway drug to theater," he said.
In the Twin Cities, "Bye Bye Liver" has been adapted by director John Haynes, the head of the Actors Theater's Creative Institute. The audience's guide through these intoxicating misadventures is a bartender played by Rylander. No method acting was involved for the 28-year-old actor -- he's a part-time bartender at the 508 Bar in downtown Minneapolis.
Actress Alyssa Szarkowski plays several characters in "Bye Bye Liver." She's also worked in the bar business (as a server at Psycho Suzi's and Eli's). She found it easy to identify with alcohol-spiked emotions on display in the play.
"Back in the day, there's definitely been moments when you have a little too much and your evil side comes out," Szarkowski said. (The liquor onstage is fake.)
While the play is centered around drinking (don't worry, you don't need to buy a drink if you don't want to), the creators say they are satirizing overindulgence and not promoting it.
Creator Hatfield said if the Twin Cities audience continues to get behind the play, he hopes it will have an open-ended run. He also said audience participation shouldn't stop with the drinking games. In Chicago, several sketches came from crowd suggestions. Hatfield said the play's bargoing audience contains "an incredible depth of material."
Most people just call it another Saturday night.