This performance poem, written and delivered by regional bard Richard Hague and supported solidly by Michael Henson on guitar is, even by Fringe standards, a bare-bones affair. And that is as it should be. The two men take the small stage at the Coffee Emporium and, for 75 minutes, trade off in verse and song, evoking what it means to be a man devoted deeply to drink.
There are no popular pontifications here. The word “alcoholism” is never mentioned, and there are no 12 steps to be heard of – although there is an entire poem listing the drunks’ five rules of the universe. The relationship with hard liquor is not surrendered up as a disease, but more of a divinely dangerous and damning madness. Hague often calls upon the gods in a pagan sense, cursing them and praising in turn. One poem opens with the line, “After all, it was the gods that gave us drink.”
Not that Hague avoids the Christian vision of the drunkard’s dilemma. The regrets of sin and hell have their place in the inebriated conscience and, at one point, the poet imagines driving in a dilapidated sedan to the gates of hell, where all those he’s wronged stand waiting.
But Hague’s understanding of what drives anyone to drink is more honest and more true than religion or popular treatments are willing to own.
One of the early poems in the sequence starts, “Used to be Wildness was my buddy.” And that’s really what it is — the need for wildness in our lives, that drives us to any number of things. The experience of misrule, the bending of what seems too straight or difficult or dull. It’s a bare-bones statement, and Hague hits it head on.
But the marriage to misrule comes at price, and the poems do not shrink from cataloguing the emotional and bodily turpitude that follows. I suspect that most of the other shows in this year’s Fringe will rail against the world as is. This is a show that dares to rail against the self as is. One of Hague’s most haunting lines: “In the trial of self, the self is the coldest judge.”
Hague’s performance here is not entirely polished, and it does not need to be. He follows his own work in a way that is comfortable, amid material that dares to provide no comfort. He seems like your friend, even when, within the lines he speaks, he is not his own.
As for the Bluegrass accompaniment by Michael Henson, it's pitch perfect in every way. His voice has that haunting sound of the Kentucky mountains, a clear timbre that one imagines must come from deeply etched hardships. And his dedication to Hague’s performance is evident at every instant.
Where Drunk Men Go is a mature show in the truest sense. It does not ask for answers but takes its experience straight from the bottle.
Performed at Coffee Emporium through June 5. See performance dates and preview here.