Randall T. Anderson: Bartender Raconteur
Alchemist Theatre’s intimate lounge plays host to a memorable show this month. The theatre’s bar plays the stage as Randall T. Anderson serves-up a series of stories in The Bartender. The irresistibly charismatic Anderson tells a series of stories that introduce sample-sized cocktails that are served to an audience.
Anderson’s wit and heart warm the little space as he tells a mixture of historical and personal narratives. Anderson is an engrossing storyteller which speaks to a sharply honed ability to both write AND perform. His historical introductions to drinks like the gin fizz and the sidecar are cleverly-crafted. Tech alchemist Aaron Kopec supports Anderson’s stories with sophisticated lighting and video on a pair of monitors behind the bar. The video is responsively integrated with the light, mood and narrative. We get the feel of the front lines of World War I as footage from the trenches plays across the screens in prelude to the invention of the sidecar. Disco lights play amidst the footage from Studio 54 as Anderson tells the story of the cosmopolitan which is easily one of the funnest moments in the show.
There are eight stories. There are eight corresponding cocktails. If that sounds like a lot of alcohol, it IS. Thankfully, they’re not all full-sized drniks. The audience experiences little one-ounce samples. Of course, this DOES mean 8 ounces of hard liquor, so those going to the show are encouraged to plan accordingly. (At one point, when discussing the flavor of a drink, Anderson charmingly suggested that one of the drinks a patron was having might have also tasted “like an Uber,” with so much other cocktail activity going on over the course of the show.
The narratives mix with the drinks in a fusion that’s as clever as it is simple. At the end of each story, the audience is given the drink that had inspired that story. The story for the next cocktail is rendered as the audience enjoys the cocktail from the previous story. We get the visceral experience of the story we just heard as we are launched into the next narrative. I might have expected to feel a bit unpleasantly disoriented by this, but it actually works quite well. (Sound travels faster than taste anyway, doesn't it? Isn't that the way it works?) The only time there's a perfect synthesis between story heard and drink consumed is when we reach the final story--a tender autobiographical tale about a drink invented by Anderson himself. We experience the final drink of the evening as Anderson finishes his final story of the show.
Anderson isn’t making ALL the drinks. As the character of The Bartender tells his stories, the Alchemist’s Erica Case is busy making the samples that will be served to the audience. Anderson also makes one full-sized version of each cocktail as he performs. That full-sized cocktail is then given to one volunteer from the audience with Anderson charmingly mingling with attendees as he delivers the drink.
Erica Case lends a fun additional voice to lend a pleasant, little bit of accent to the show. She occasionally adds witty bits of interaction with Anderson that fosters a really fun barroom atmosphere. Anderson, Case and the unseen Kopec bring together an dynamic that’s seductive enough to give the feel of a comfortable, well-worn downtown cocktail lounge that’s been around for decades. Actually, Bay View's Alchemist Theatre is celebrating its first decade. Randall T. Anderson’s The Bartender is a immensely satisfying addition to the Alchemist’s ten years.
Alchemist Theatre’s original show The Bartender runs through Dec. 17. Opening weekend sold-out. By the end of opening weekend there were only a couple of tickets left. As of this writing there is roughly one seat available for the show's final performance. Ticket reservations for this show and more can be found at Alchemist Theatre online.