Outfit, Garage co-produce a whimsical ‘White Chip’

Credit: Casey G. Ford Photography

Credit: Casey G. Ford Photography

For all the consummate capabilities he has regularly demonstrated over the years, the very fine actor Andrew Benator has rarely enjoyed the opportunity to come across as quite so relaxed and casual and downright personable as he does currently in “The White Chip.” (I had to think way back to Jewish Theatre of the South’s 2007 production of “Hank Kimmel’s Shorts,” a collection of vignettes by local playwright Kimmel, and one of Benator’s first outings in Atlanta after relocating here from New York, for a comparable example in which he was freely allowed to directly engage with an audience.)

“The White Chip,” a co-production of the venerable Theatrical Outfit and the improvisational troupe Dad’s Garage, is a semi-autobiographical play by Sean Daniels, a co-founding member and former artistic director of Dad’s, detailing his longtime alcohol addiction and subsequent recovery. The show casts Benator as a fictionalized alter-ego, Steven McCallister, whose personal life and professional rise to prominence on the national theater scene — with a “dream job” as the artistic director of an esteemed but unnamed Kentucky-based company (Actors Theatre of Louisville, in fact) — unravels.

Credit: Casey G. Ford Photography

Credit: Casey G. Ford Photography

Benator remains front and center for the duration of the 90-minute one-act comedy-drama, and his wholly endearing grip on us seldom falters. From Steven’s first beer as a 12-year-old video gamer, through his high school years, where he was voted by his graduating class “The Most Likely to Exceed” — never mind the occasional Mormon summer camp — to eventually discovering his “truest me” while studying theater at college, it’s easy to appreciate in the actor’s performance how the character’s charming and eccentric personality enables him to disguise a persistent drinking problem.

Steven’s “love affair” with booze proceeds during his bicoastal first marriage and the “open relationship” it affords him. By the time he begins to settle into his career, as a freelance director-for-hire and with his high-profile gig in Kentucky, he has mastered the fine art of deception, relishing the advantages of odorless vodka as a means of spiking his daily bottles of Gatorade or Diet Coke, and otherwise continuing to dodge exposure or accountability on the job.

His inevitable downward spiral, which he refers to as the “country-music portion” of his life, includes a few visits to recovery centers and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, where he’s awarded a number of white chips as tokens for merely expressing a fleeting interest in trying to go 24 hours without a drink.

Staged at Dad’s Garage, since Theatrical Outfit’s own space is under renovation, “The White Chip” is co-directed by Outfit artistic director Matt Torney and Dad’s artistic director Tim Stoltenberg. Playing the many peripheral characters in the story — as various friends, family members, co-workers, fellow addicts and accommodating airport bartenders — are familiar Atlanta performers Tom Key and Gina Rickicki, both of whom follow Benator’s lead by testing themselves in rather refreshing new ways.

Credit: Casey G. Ford Photography

Credit: Casey G. Ford Photography

Rickicki, primarily known for her broad comedic roles, gets to capitalize on several of those here, too; but she also proves unexpectedly adept in a couple of more serious turns, as Steven’s increasingly exasperated first wife, or as his initially crude yet ultimately sympathetic mother. And if you’ve ever wanted to see Key as an oblivious young stoner prone to calling people “dude,” look no further; but savor, as well, his portrayals of a blustery military vet or as Steven’s mild-mannered father.

In large part, Daniels’ script takes a surprisingly whimsical (and somewhat welcome) approach to the potentially sobering subject matter of alcoholism, and the theater-related context of his story allows for a lot of in-jokes that will be particularly appealing to Atlantans, given his local connections.

The show loses considerable momentum, however, as it gradually becomes more conventionally wistful, with Steven confronting issues of a spiritual or medical nature, and guilt about sacrificing relationships with his closest acquaintances, business associates and family members. When his father is finally diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, sure, it’s sad. But because all of the ancillary characters are basically presented only in snippets of interactions here and there, the deeper emotional bonds any of them share with Steven aren’t thoroughly substantiated in the play.

Regrettably, as a result, “The White Chip” ends up feeling like a greater therapeutic endeavor for Daniels than it necessarily does an entirely satisfactory experience for his audience.


“The White Chip”

Through Feb. 19. 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays; 2:30 p.m. Sundays. $40-$45 ($15 for students). Dad’s Garage, 569 Ezzard St. SE, Atlanta. 678-528-1500, www.theatricaloutfit.org.

Bottom line: Much more effective as uncommonly lighter entertainment than typically sobering analysis.