REVIEW: Misery Loves Company in Avon Players’ Clever Comedy ‘Drinking Alone’

Drinking Alone centers around a family reunion no one wants to attend, but you should snag a seat for this must-see production running at Avon Players in Rochester Hills, Mich., now through March 23, 2024.

Written by Canadian playwright Norman Foster, Drinking Alone combines hilarity and insight into the tribulations of everyday life. Similar to the style American playwright Neil Simon is known for. The plot centers on the Todd family whose dysfunctional dynamics offer up plenty of humor and heartache.

Welcome to Family Feud! Sitting L to R: Luigi Murri as “Joe Todd,” Patty Hagel as “Phyllis Todd,” and Marie Burchi-Skipinski as “Renee Duchene.” Standing L to R: Hosanna Phillips as “Carrie O’Neill” and Lee Davis as “Ivan Todd’ in Avon Players’ production of ‘Drinking Alone.’
Photo courtesy of Bryan Clifford.

In anticipation of his father’s arrival and the disapproval he’s sure will come with it, Joe Todd (Luigi Murri, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time) decides to hire Renee Duchene (Marie Burchi-Skipinksi, A Few Good Men) to pretend to be his fiancée. Joe and Renee couldn’t be more opposite. He is a realist. Very black and white, while Renee is romantic and vibrant. She thought she was being hired for a simple night out and is caught off guard when Joe tells her that she’ll be meeting his family.

Next to arrive is Joe’s sister Carrie O’Neill (Hosanna Phillips, Night of January 16th), a successful news anchor who drinks more than she should. She quickly catches on to who Renee is and tells her, “We’re all playing roles. We’re all acting. Acting might be the most natural thing we ever do.” Like Joe, Carrie is a realist. They are both fluent in cynicism and confrontation having worn both as armor when dealing with their father Ivan Todd (Lee Davis), the reason for this family reunion. He and his wife Phyllis (Patty Hagel, Miracle on 34th Street) are coming for a visit. The question is why are they coming?

As Joe and Carrie wait, they dredge up decades-old grievances against their dad like chefs sharpening their knives for the kill, whereas Renee is really getting into her role and is excited to meet Ivan and Phyllis. Not long after their arrival, the gloves come off and Ivan, Joe, and Carrie go a few rounds at each other while Renee and Phyllis try to keep the peace.

Ivan isn’t a bad father. He simply wants his children to live up to their full potential with lives that reflect that. Of course, all Joe and Carrie hear is that they’re not good enough and never will be. Finally, the truth of Ivan’s last-minute visit comes to light, which changes the trajectory of the evening. Hard truths come out, uncomfortable truths. Ivan gets one-on-one time with each of his kids. In turn, they air their grievances and speak their version of the truth. Does this solve all the problems of the last 15 years? No. But it goes a long way in mending emotional fences. It also gives Joe and Carrie some of the approval they’ve been seeking from their father. What’s funny is that while Renee and Joe’s relationship is more business than pleasure, she too gets caught up in the desire for his family’s approval.

Drinking Alone brilliantly balances the humor with heart. The pacing and banter between the actors are excellent. Every line lands with the desired effect. I felt like I was watching a popular sitcom from the ‘must-see TV’ days of the ‘90s, which is appropriate since that’s the decade director Joy Oetjens chose to set the play in as a nod to when it debuted. But unlike most sitcoms, there’s no canned laughter. It was obvious the audience was genuinely having a good time and that is all down to the five immensely talented actors on the stage. You can’t help but get caught up in Burchi-Skipinski’s bubbly portrayal of Renee. It feels sincere and you find yourself rooting for her. The role required a lot of energy and emotion and she hit all the right beats. They all did – the funny and the heartfelt.

Murri and Phillips’ portrayal of siblings also had a high believability factor. At certain times they reminded me of Alexis and David Rose from “Schitt’s Creek.” According to Davis’ bio, he hasn’t been on stage in almost two decades, but with the strong performance he gave from his first entrance, I’m sure this won’t be the last time we’re treated to his artistic talents. Hagel’s role might be a bit smaller than her other previous Avon Players’ appearances, but she still makes her presence known. This is one of the best ensemble casts I’ve seen in some time, and they were entertaining from beginning to end. Drinking Alone is an incredibly fun way to spend an evening.

I went into this performance knowing nothing of the plot or the playwright and came out utterly delighted. It’s a gem of a play you won’t want to miss. So, grab a libation in the lobby (alcoholic and non-alcoholic are available), settle into the new, plush seats, and enjoy Drinking Alone!

This performance runs approximately two hours with a 15-minute intermission. It also contains strong language.

Drinking Alone is directed by Joy Oetjens with Patrick Jordan as producer. Scenic design is by Jeff Stillman with Aaron Barnes on properties. Costume/hair/makeup design is by Kelly Miller and Lana Hastings, set dress by Jonathan Farrell, lighting design by John (JD) Deirlein, and sound design by Mark Palmer. John (JD) Deirlein is also the stage manager.

Tickets for all shows are $25. Call 248-608-9077 for tickets or order online at Discounts on matinee tickets are available for seniors and students; call the box office for details. Additionally, group rates are available by calling the box office. “Like” Avon Players Theatre on Facebook for special offers on tickets. All major credit cards are accepted. All seats are reserved. Show dates and times follow:

  • Saturday, March 9, 8:00 p.m.
  • Sunday, March 10, 2:00 p.m.
  • Friday, March 15, 8:00 p.m.
  • Saturday, March 16, 8:00 p.m.
  • Sunday, March 17, 2:00 p.m.
  • Friday, March 22, 8:00 p.m.
  • Saturday, March 23, 8:00 p.m.
About Sarah Hovis

Freelance wordsmith, arts appreciator, grammar geek, sports spectator, stationery snob, and world traveler, Sarah charts her own course as the owner of saliho creative. She uses her creative mind and engaging dialogue to fearlessly bring the written word to life in print and online… all while keeping a watchful eye out for the next literary adventure. You can reach her at

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