Derek Ahonen writes terrific first acts. His newest work, The Qualification of Douglas Evans, follows its eponymous protagonist (Mr. Ahonen) for thirty years, from the child of an alcoholic father to the bright-eyed acting student fresh off the bus to New York City and finally to the bitter alcoholic himself, destroying relationships with a series of women while penning cringe-inducing plays like Wine Drunk in the Afternoon. If this sounds self-indulgent—and of course it is—Mr. Ahonen is sharp enough to have Cara (Samantha Strelitz) tell Douglas, “You wrote a masturbatory play about your stupid relationship with some stupid girl and then you stupidly starred in it and were equally as bad at playing yourself as you were at writing about yourself.” And self-indulgent is not always a problem; at its best, Douglas Evans recalls Arthur Miller’s unwieldy masterpiece After the Fall, which takes a wider aim by choosing Auschwitz as its central conceit but nonetheless employs flashback and narration to examine what happens when a smart but selfish man is unleashed on the women who love him.
Furthermore, Douglas Evans plays as raw and truthful in a theatrical environment where those kinds of words are often undeservedly thrown around: his is not a romanticized Hollywood alcoholism, where the blackout fuckups involve too much whiskey and unbelievably attractive women, but the kind filled with spidery hallucinations, or where awkward, failed copulations with women who resemble his mother end with his drooling declaration, “I want to lick your pussy.” Still, Mr. Ahonen, whose plays I greatly admire, has never managed to produce a play that works as a whole; returning from intermission, Douglas Evans putters around the same territory that was well-worn in the first half, while the repetitious life of addiction becomes tedious for the audience as well as the participants.
The cast—whirling around Mr. Ahonen’s sweaty, neurotic, but never-dull performance—is wonderful. Mandy Nicole Moore, standing at least a head shorter than the rest of her co-stars, is squeaky and lovable as Kimmy, Douglas’ inspiration for Wine Drunk. Kelley Swindall, playing Jessica, recalls the cartoon rabbit bearing the same name; Douglas’ first love (a one-night stand), her ghost continues to reappear and remind us of the boy who had his first taste of cider and thought of Halloween. And Penny Bittone is hysterical, alternately a pretentious director who is in the game for the “poose” and Kimmy’s ex-boyfriend (and Douglas’ ex-friend) Mark who, both hurt and proud, barks into the phone, “I just fucked Kimmy in the ass. You can keep her. Oh. And I booked my audition for the werewolf movie. I stars your favorite actor, Eric Roberts.”
So, despite its flaws, The Qualification of Douglas Evans is a funny, engaging, and powerful play—the kind that might end up an early work from a major artist.