Theater Review - Hey bartender

The narrative scheme of Marki Shalloe's Four Glasses doesn't need a lot of explaining, but the play devotes plenty of time explaining itself anyway. At a watering hole called The Lido Deck, hard-drinking France (Kimberly Salome) tells the bartender that four glasses of booze turned her into an alcoholic, and flashbacks illustrate each one in the Process Theatre's production. France's dysfunctional family history compellingly combines black comedy and kitchen-sink tragedy, but the present-day action leaves you neither shaken nor stirred.

France first turns to alcohol at the age of 11 during a tense Christmas season with her family — brittle, neurotic Mother (Pat Bell) and cranky shut-in Big Mother (Lynne Ashe). Arguments over fruitcake and a fake Christmas tree prompt Mother to lock herself in a room for two days and drive France to drink a bottle of rum.

A few years later, France seeks similar succor for sex. Her poor self-esteem makes her consider going all the way with a geeky neighbor boy (Luis Hernandez). In the play's cleverest scene, young France reads a shoplifted porno magazine to get some carnal pointers and has an imaginary conversation with an air-headed pin-up girl (Rachel Sorsa).

The play mentions that Mother has problems with forgery and pathological lying without fully exploring the matters, but Bell brings the role into sharp focus. She matter-of-factly states inane untruths ("Silver trees glorify Jesus!") then crumples and lashes out when her family fails to support her illusions.

Given the pressures on young France, we understand her use of alcohol as a security blanket. But the modern-day character spells out the role of booze in her life in unnecessary detail. In the Lido Deck scenes, she and Irish barkeep Padraig (Mark Russ) engage in hard-boiled banter and pseudo-therapeutic attempts to "open up," but their exchanges prove wearisome and take a long time to go a short distance. Compared to Four Glasses' engrossing flashbacks, the contemporary moments are dry and stiff — which would be admirable qualities in a martini.

Four Glasses plays through Dec. 21 at the Process Theatre, Dad's Garage Top Shelf, 280 Elizabeth St. Thurs.-Sat. 8 p.m.; Sun. 5 p.m. $12-$15. 404-586-9860. www.processtheatre.com.