"I Hope They Serve Beer On Broadway," by Freddie Morgan, November 12, 2013.
“My name is Tucker Max, and I am an a**hole.”
Max’s opening line of his infamous book, “I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell,” embodies the controversy that surrounds his shocking tales of debauchery.
That same line served as the opener for Smugbug Productions’ weeklong run of “I Hope They Serve Beer on Broadway” in the Black Box Theater at George Street Playhouse, which ended this past Tuesday.
The book, which made the New York Times’ Best Seller List for five straight years, displayed Max’s narcissism as he regaled his readers with stories of his wild sex and drunken adventures from his young adult life.
The eight-member ensemble production took place in a bar, built specifically for the play to endure the weight of several cast members at once. The audience members were wholly immersed, and could interact with the characters during the show and even order drinks from them.
For Director and University alumnus Dan Swern, the choice to make the play immersive was easy. As the associate producer New York’s “Sleep No More,” he saw how setting allows the production to better artistically create the atmosphere of the stories. “The audience makes up the tableau,” he said.
The cast members too believed that immersive theater was an effective change that Swern made to the original script. “This piece makes people want to come to the theater,” said cast member Vinnie Urdea. “It’s like they’re coming to the bar to hear stories.”
For Swern, an immersive theater easily creates a universe where fictional characters and real viewers can exist together. “It blurs the lines between written words and an actual audience.”
The decision to adapt Max’s book was playwright Christopher Carter Sanderson’s. The book spoke to him during a difficult moment and he felt it would make a good show.
“So I sent a pitch to Tucker Max’s mailbox, and he responded,” Sanderson said. “We sealed the deal artistically in Texas. [Max] would receive 5% gross on the first-rate production, and I got complete creative control.”
However, despite Sanderson’s power over the script, he is frequently asked if he changed the text at all. “People always ask if I lifted the stories from the book and stuck them on stage,” he said. “I actually changed a lot.” [But] it’s the perfect compliment for an adapter.”
The production’s strong resemblance to the book can be attributed, in part, to the play’s tone. Sanderson said he tried to stay true to the dramatic structure of the book, imitating its episodic storytelling and Max’s big ego.
However, Sanderson wanted his adaptation of the controversial book to be more meaningful. “I wanted to provoke discussions about tolerance and sex,” he said.
“Open dialogue can be a helpful prophylactic against rape,” he added, responding to a common critique that Max’s writing promotes a culture of rape. Sanderson believes that demystifying sex and educating the audience about tolerance makes for a better society.
“Tucker Max operates in taboo subjects but is open,” said Urdea, a longtime reader of Max’s books. “He doesn’t make them ‘others’ … Very little shocks Tucker. He’s very accepting.” Urdea said he believes Max’s own sexual proclivity and adventure allow for sexual openness.
Additionally, the cast members felt that Sanderson’s adaptation of the book portrayed Max in a different light.
“We see people reacting to Tucker in the moment, and that’s a different experience,” Urdea said. “It’s an interesting way to comment on the character.”
Dan Stern, who plays Tucker Max, believes playing out Max’s stories gives the audience a glimpse into his vulnerabilities. “It humanizes the character,” he said. “You can tell he feels dirty upon reflection.”
Cast member Jordan Spoon said the stage adaptation is very different from the book. “The story of Tucker Max is meant for those who subscribe to patriarchy,” she said. “The cast refuses to subscribe to that.” She cites instances of gender bending, exploring double standards and turning the tables on Max that strongly deviate from Max’s text.
Ultimately, Swern would like to tour other bars and ultimate set up a space in New York City where the show can reside. “Ideally I’d like a space built especially for us,” he said. “It’s an expensive proposition but can be profitable.”
“Dan [Swern]’s production is cooler,” Sanderson said. “It’s a performance for the younger generation by the younger generation. It’s sexy, like ‘Coyote Ugly’ does Tucker Max. Dan’s a genius.”