Karla Sorenson’s TAPPED OUT about a man, a bar and an overdue loan is getting a smart production at Image Theater this month (through Nov. 16th). Sorenson writes clever, witty dialogue and characters you can care about: There’s Manny who purchased the bar for a new start in life. He’s had a few brushes with the law but he’s determined to “go legit” from now on. Problem is he doesn’t have the money to repay a dicey loan he never should have agreed to in the first place.
Of course, he’s sweet on the waitress he’s just hired and she, too, it just so happens, could use a fresh start. Then there’s Manny’s friend, Tucker, who used to play in a rock band but now he practically lives at the bar. Sorenson gets terrific laughs when Tucker holds forth on his philosophy of life: “Progress is like an axe in the hand of a criminal.” In other words, he doesn’t like change and he sees it coming when the new waitress offers “ideas” to update the bar. “Take away her library card,” he quips.
Sorenson stacks the deck with more than the requisite amount of secrets and issues. A charge of rape is raised but then it disappears. The waitress suggests to Manny that Tucker dislikes her because he’s in love with Manny himself. That wrinkle likewise evaporates. We hear lots of talk about drugs, alcoholism, suicide and sabotage: so many possibilities for a plot that it’s hard to see the forest for the trees. (New plays are often overwritten. That’s how playwrights work on their development. The good news is that Image Theater takes chances on new work when most theaters don’t.)
When the play ends, then you can see the through line but until then, the characters seem to be wandering all over the map. Mind you, the quirky characters and the zippy dialogue keep you interested but at intermission, all you have is ‘Will Tucker rat out the waitress and reveal her secret?” A better hook, like “Will Manny do something foolish to save the bar” would ramp up the suspense and heighten the stakes. (Later on she comments about that secret, and I would agree, that it “doesn’t really make a difference.”)
Directors Jerry Bisantz and Ann Garvin have a crackerjack cast to make you believe: David Sullivan is perfection as the salt of the earth ex-boxer who just keeps getting bad breaks. Jenney Dale Holland gives the waitress equal parts vulnerability and moxie. You can clearly see why the barkeep is smitten. And Drew Shadrawy gives the wise guy character just enough edge to make him dangerous. The three play off each other seamlessly. It’s lovely ensemble work and that’s a very good thing.