By Raphael Badagliacca
The best cup of coffee I ever had was under a cabana in the Dominican Republic, despite the warm weather. One day during the two years I lived in Paris, I scraped together my coins and treated myself to a dinner at a restaurant on the Rue Mouffetard — red wine and Steak au Poivre; I order this dish whenever I see it on the menu, but it never compares to the one in my memory. This summer I visited the Sicilian mountain village from which my four grandparents emigrated; the waitress brought a green salad; as soon as I tasted the dressing I knew it was identical to my mother’s after all these years, in a place from which she descended but had never been. Food has power over us.
“A la Carte: a Feast of New Plays” is a collection of six short plays all about this power. We have the Food Network these days and countless other cooking shows, so it’s no reach at all for us to put food and performance in the same sentence. On television it’s all about competition and bravado — who can astound us most — but this set of plays is about a different kind of power — the personal connection between people where food is the medium.
Everyone has his or her own tastes. Of the six courses on this menu, I felt the evening ended stronger than it began, not that there weren’t tugs at the heart throughout.
Tess Frazer plays the part of Molly in Alan Knee’s “The Cook and the Soldier,” a 16-year old at loose ends in a dysfunctional family that offers neither the time nor attention a child deserves. She expresses herself and her need for something more through the only thing she can control – cooking. Her “Big Molly” is her gift – the metaphorical, all too real sandwich that finds a hungry soldier, also disappointed by life, played by Joe Boover.
Rob McIntosh and Desiree Matthews star as a childless couple who both want nothing more than a baby (or do they?) in Laurie Graff’s “The Incredible Egg.” The lengths to which they have been led include the unusual use of an egg, a suggestion that reveals and unravels their intentions.
Popcorn is made for sharing. In this play of the same name by C. Scott Sickles, more than popcorn itself is shared between two step-brothers. Some things are present but remain unspoken; once spoken, they remain undeniable. Joe Boover returns as one of the step-brothers and we begin to understand that not only will the food theme find expression in different plays through the evening, so will the actors in different parts. Cody Keown plays the other step-brother and Susan Izatt has a cameo as the mother.
Things heat up in “Fish Food,” by Laura Hirschberg. C.K. Allen, with an impressive physical performance that goes beyond words, convinces us that the theater itself and all of us sitting in it are inside the belly of a whale. The tough love angel played by Lauren Riddle says she prefers to call the beast “Leviathan” as she explains to the nameless man, who seems to have just awakened from a coma, that he is destined to become the food in this setting unless he finds the courage to undo the attitude that got him here. He does not go gently. He wrestles with his angel like Jacob in the bible. Both actors are excellent verbally and physically. We realize we have just seen Lauren Riddle in “The Cook and the Soldier” as the uncaring mother obsessed with “The Real Housewives” of anywhere, and we appreciate how different parts show an actor’s range.
“Palate Cleanser” will discourage you from type-casting historical figures like Jesus, the Son of God. C.K. Allen, who we just met inside of a whale, plays Brad who is defending his Yelp negative review of Jesus’ serving of the loaves and fishes. Jesus, who has his own unexpected look, played by Bob Manus, is understandably upset. Brad concedes that a miracle has taken place but he still feels the seven loaves and fishes that fed the 5,000 recipients could have tasted better.
Last, but certainly not least, beginning with the title “Eat Dessert First,” by Dana Leslie Goldstein, is about wisdom and expectation. A woman, played by Mary Ruth Baggott, is a mother whose own mother, a famous cookbook writer, has now passed, but that does not prevent her from offering endless advice as her daughter goes through the painful task of deciding which of her mother’s things to keep and which to let go. Her process is interrupted by phone calls from home that show her as a devoted mother and wife. She bears some resentment towards a mother she feels could have been more present, instead of nurturing a career. Susan Izatt, who we saw briefly as the mother in “Popcorn,” returns as the focus of this play, dressed in colors that could only be called happy, urging her daughter not to lose herself in all of her obligations, that sometimes it’s okay to eat dessert first.
A la Carte: a Feast of New Plays
April 9 to May 2, 2015
Thursdays @ 7PM
Fridays & Saturdays @ 8PM
Sunday, April 19 @ 3PM
Monday, April 20 @ 7PM
Wednesday, April 29 @ 7PM
The Main Stage Theater
WorkShop Theater, 312 West 36th Street, 4 fl. East
Tickets at www.workshoptheater.org
Director for all plays: Leslie Kincaid Burby
Assistant Director: Margo Hammond
Set Design: Duane Pagano
Lighting Design: Diana Duecker
Costume Design: Catherine Siracusa
Sound Design: Joe Marquet
“The Cook and the Soldier” by Allan Knee
Tess Frazer (Molly); Joe Boover (Tom); Tom Berdik (Journalist/Club Owner/Sydney); Lauren Riddle (Charlotte/Journalist’s Wife)
“The Incredible Egg” by Laurie Graff
Robert Bruce Macintosh (Adam); Desiree Matthews (Eden)
“Popcorn” by Scott C. Sickles
Cody Keown (Kip); Joe Boover (Stan); Susan Izatt (Mom); Nigella (VO)
“Fish Food” by Laura Hirschberg
CK Allen (Man); Lauren Riddle (Woman)
“Palate Cleanser” by Gary Giovanetti
CK Allen (Brad); Jesus (Bob Manus)
“Eat Dessert First” by Dana Leslie Goldstein
Susan Izatt (Mother); Mary Ruth Baggott (Daughter)