Blowjob From Dachshund Not Enough in Love Drunk

In his hangdog way, Austin Pendleton can do creepy. As Coroner George Griscom, in the TV-series Homicide: Life on the Street, for example, he always managed to give the impression that his dissections were motivated by something more—and more sinister—than civic responsibility and a state paycheck. In Love Drunk, Romulus Linney’s new play—staged at the Abingdon Theatre Company—Pendleton seems primed to unleash full-bore freakiness, well cast as a reclusive Appalachian baron who’s lured a nubile twenty-something wanderer (Kristina Valada-Viars) back to his mountain-top digs. Unfortunately, the script never quite lets him go at it.

Billed as “an inspired dance of sexual tension,” Love Drunk starts off like it might deliver just this, despite the seemingly insurmountable age gap (the old man could be into his eighties). Early banter, sparked by Pendleton’s strangely charming anecdote about accepting a blowjob from a morally tortured Dachshund, establishes genuine chemistry between the two characters. And the spot-on sense of place, driven by Linney’s lyric descriptions of fog and darkness as well as Jeff Pajer’s grandly rustic set, comes with a lonely eroticism of its own.

Knife gal meets dirty old man: Kristina Valada-Viars and  
Austin Pendleton
Kim T. Sharps
Knife gal meets dirty old man: Kristina Valada-Viars and Austin Pendleton

As things transpire, though, the wealthy mountain-man is revealed to be pretty much a total softie—this is problematic when the visceral compulsion of the relationship rests heavily on implicit violence. A lovingly carved dagger resting on a desk inspires the young lady to inquire several times if her host intends to go serial-killer on her. But this quickly ceases to be a convincing possibility as Pendleton’s character develops. The only ammunition he’s given, in a play driven by competing confessions of aberrance, is that he’s an unapologetically dirty old man, and maybe wasn’t a very good father. Thus, most of the shock value has to come from the woman, who is written more as a contradictory collection of sensationalist back-stories than a real, conflicted human. For instance, was she molested by her father, or turned into a nymphomaniac through other, equally traumatic events? Does it really matter?

Still, Valada-Viars brings lithe force to her role and is a completely convincing object of desire. When she effortlessly knocks her suitor, who’s in fawning puppy mode, to the ground, it’s less a dramatic turning point than a reminder of why things have so deflated: The encounter is a total mismatch.

 
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