Damascus, the latest one-man play by Boise Contemporary Theater vet Andrew Weems, is teeming with vivid descriptions of eccentric characters. As with his 2010 BCT production, Namaste Man, Weems weaves a tale that tugs the audience across the globe, from the unforgiving streets of New York City to a crowded bus ambling through the back roads of rural India.
Neil Patel, who designed the set for Damascus' premiere at the Fourth Street Theatre in New York earlier this year, crafted a simple set at BCT. The stage is a cold warehouse space with a table shivering in the center; a framed photo of James Dean hovers on the back wall and a small Indian shrine skulks stage right. It's more or less a blank canvas on which Weems can paint his colorful imagery peppered with a flurry of indulgent accents.
The play's central character--a schlubby unnamed alcoholic in mom jeans who works a dead-end job at a NYC bookstore and still listens to a Walkman ("To hell with the shiny new machines")--is an unlikely protagonist. He throws back six packs on the roof of his New York City apartment and on the long train ride to JFK airport. There's a side story about his infatuation with a fellow bookstore employee, Annie, who punctuates her worried entreaties with, "You're my dude."
Alcohol is as much a character in Damascus as the eccentric Russian landlord Jeff, with his "greased-back Fonzie hair," or the lead's brother Ted, who was once a James Dean-ish rebel but is now a disillusioned minister on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
Hungover in a Dunkin' Donuts after spending the night passed out on a park bench, Weems' character dives into an old magazine story, "Damascus," about a researcher who receives an academic grant to India. He runs across a similar collection of oddballs, like the sweet Scottish schoolteacher Fiona and the disapproving Mr. Babbington, and soon realizes that the real India is a far cry from his romanticized ideal. In the end, Damascus--both the magazine article and the play--is the story of a lost man wandering down the metaphorical Road to Damascus, the not always pretty or direct path to self-discovery.
But for all the color and character building--an impressive feat for Weems, who is seated at a table for most of the production--Damascus was ultimately unfulfilling; a haphazard mosaic of stories without a compelling central arc. Boise audience members, usually liberal with their standing ovations, remained in their seats opening night, clapping politely.