In her 2006 eight-scene one act, "Drunk Enough To Say I Love You?," British playwright Caryl Churchill offers a fragmented, elliptical dialogue in which two gay lovers (Sam, as in Uncle, and Jack, as in Union) discuss — and in fact plot and plan — world events.
The play has been widely perceived as a metaphor for what many Brits saw as the unholy alliance between a dominant George W. Bush and submissive Tony Blair.
Unfortunately, in Theatre Rhinoceros' Bay Area premiere, that relationship appears imbalanced in a way Churchill did not intend. The two actors are not well-matched.
As Sam, Rudy Guerrero, a performer with great reserves of raw energy and emotional depth, needs a stronger partner than Sam Cohen. As Jack, Cohen (bad British accent notwithstanding) simply lacks the required acting skills.
Nor has director John Fisher been able to help Cohen successfully navigate Churchill's style, with its choppy, open-ended sentences.
The two men argue, gloat and conspire their way through every possible hot-button political issue, from the war in Afghanistan to climate change to Guantanamo and more.
Sam's an arrogant, charming bully, goading, teasing, manipulating and seducing his besotted, submissive and occasionally doubtful lover.
Churchill's vision of the two countries' ego-driven power plays, as personified in this sadomasochistic relationship, is deadly.
Also on the bill are two seven-scene, 10-minute plays. The first is Churchill's controversial "Seven Jewish Children," which she wrote in 2009 (and subtitled "a play for Gaza"), which has been seen by some as not just anti-Israel, but anti-Semitic. (The playwright is an outspoken supporter of Palestinian causes.)
It is followed by American playwright Deborah Margolin's "Seven Palestinian Children," one among several such plays written in reaction to Churchill.
Margolin follows Churchill's format exactly, and the two plays seen together give a powerful glimpse of ordinary citizens on either side of the great divide wondering how to tell their children the truth — or some version of the truth, glamorized or glossed over — about their lives in Israel.
As with "Drunk Enough," Fisher stages these two tiny plays — written as chunks of text without character, setting or action — in visceral, human terms, and empathetically. They're enhanced by projections, costumes, sound and a few set pieces.
It's Margolin's play that makes the strongest impression, and it is due to the dynamic performances of Kim Stephenson as a suffering mother and Guerrero as her enraged husband.
IF YOU GODrunk Enough To Say I Love You?
Presented by Theatre Rhinoceros
Where: Costume Shop, 1117 Market St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays; closes June 16
Tickets: $15 to $30
Contact: (800) 838-3006, www.therhino.org