Considering East Lansing’s role as a college town, particularly one that really, really enjoys celebrating the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament each year, MSU’s Summer Circle Theatre’s choice of a play called “The Drunken City” seems apropos. In reality, the play resembles the East Coast reality show “Jersey Shore” more than it does Spartan country.
This is the story of three Jersey girls who hit “the city” for a bachelorette party. They soon find that as with vino, in pink drinks veritas. While Marnie (Jenn Shafer) is in love with the idea of getting married, she is not in love with her fianc'e. She finds a knight in orange-skin armor, Frank (Rusty Broughton), whose resemblance to Vanilla Ice-turned-Eurotrash-scenester belies a passionate and sincere boy on the cusp of becoming a man.
Marnie and Frank ditch their friends and play a game of “Before Sunrise,” tawking through their issues and insecurities. In the meantime, gal pals Linda (Rachel Frawley) and Melissa (Michelle Meredith) frantically search for the pair in a desperate attempt to keep Marnie on task and headed down the aisle. As the night wears on, more layers of insecurity are peeled back, as Melissa and Linda reveal the level of emotional investment they have placed on Marnie’s success in exchanging vows.
Nipping at the girls’ heels is Frank’s sidekick Eddie (Andrew Harvey), an adorable little scrappy dog-boy whose yips are largely ignored. Eddie soon finds someone who will listen to him when wedding cake-baker Bob (Jon Wierenga) arrives. Both are hilariously decked out in variations of New Kids on the Block’s Joey McIntyre wardrobe, circa 1994. They soon discover a connection that goes deeper than their wardrobes as the story unfolds.
Director Rob Roznowski chose a perfect summer work in “The Drunken City.” Breezy as a good June evening, the plot is easy to follow, given the occasional distractions that come with an outdoor venue. The cast members adopt recognizable and somewhat stereotypical Jersey accents and gestures without descending into mockery. Their affection for their characters is obvious, and makes for a comfortable connection to the audience. When Marnie muses that fianc'e Gary “changed…he started acting like he thinks a husband is supposed to act,” a woman nearby nodded unconsciously in empathy.
While a short musical interlude seems a bit out of place and threatens the pace of the show, all is forgiven when Frank strips off any remaining self-consciousness and performs a slightly touched yet touching lip sync’d love song. Broughton is completely committed to the piece, and utilizes every inch- and then some- of the small summer stage to perform his mating dance.
At a snappy 80 minutes with no intermission, “The Drunken City” is just slightly longer than an episode of “Jersey Shore.” “City” features all of the booze-laden drama and hook-ups of “Shore.” but adds sincerity and heart to the mix.