Friday, April 17, 2015

A la Carte: A Feast of New Plays


A la Carte: A Feast of New Plays
Presented by Workshop Theater Company
directed by Leslie Kincaid Burby

One-act plays can be terrific. Drama, after all, demands compression. They can be great, and when they’re bad, well, at least they’re only one act.

Workshop Theater Company (OOB) has served up a buffet of one-acts in A la Carte: A Feast of New Plays. It’s a program of a half-dozen short plays loosely connected by images of food. The quality of the scripts runs from very nice to merely standard, but the evening enjoys some satisfying acting.

One of the better plays – the first in the program and the longest – is The Cook and the Soldier by Allen Knee. It concerns a young girl, Molly (played by Tess Frazer), and a veteran named Tom who went AWOL by stealing the identity of a dead photographer (played by Joe Boover).

The writing is delicate and stylistically very good, working largely through character revelation. The relationship develops from a bump-into-each-other meeting through Molly’s high school prom.  Finally Tom brings Molly back to the abandoned building where he lives (it’s a reflection of the lives of many vets that he lives in an abandoned building and spends his days at the Port Authority Bus Terminal). The play breaks down here at the end, unfortunately, with an inexplicable piece of action. But we’ve grown to know and like these characters. Ms. Frazer and Mr. Boover have given them depth and complexity.

In Eat Dessert First by Dana Leslie Goldstein, a woman cleans out her late mother’s affects. The mother (her work was to write cookbooks) appears – usually, but not always, in a separate reality. It’s a graceful and tender play.

The mother used to serve her daughter ambrosia with meringue in a jelly mode. When she encourages her daughter to take the mold home with her, at the end of the play, we have the most eloquent food metaphor of the evening.

From her entrance we can see that Mary Ray Baggot (playing the daughter) is a fine actress. It’s one of those entrances that tells you just what the character’s been doing. As the mother, Susan Izatt is no less eloquent. “You think you know what you’re doing when you follow a recipe,” she tells us, and the subtext (about raising her child) is absolutely clear.

The Incredible Egg by Laurie Graff opens with a couple having sex. They’re trying to get pregnant. They argue about it as they waffle about using egg whites to help. It’s predictable, but it features the real talents of Robert Bruce McIntosh and Desiree Matthews.

In  Scott C. Sickles’ play Popcorn, a “straight” teen comes on to his gay step-brother and they end up having sex (the simulated on stage type). We’re given no reason why the “straight” brother would do this, so the play skates on thin ice. But Cody Keown gives us first-rate work as the gay sib.  

A man who’s attempted suicide finds himself on the back of the tongue of a whale in Laura Hirschberg’s play Fish Food. It’s a sort of limbo. His company is an angel who’s mopping the floor (she calls the place “the belly of the beast” just because she likes the alliteration). His choice is whether to go into the leviathan’s stomach or out its mouth. The play’s inventive, and there’s enough dramatic action to pull it through. Lauren Riddle plays the role of the mop-up angel with a nice comic touch.

Gary Giovanetti’s play Palate Cleanser is a conversation between Jesus and a man who’s given mediocre Yelp reviews to the miracle of the loaves and fishes and to the water-to-wine miracle. It’s a clever application of the food motif. The play might be agreeable if it weren’t for the weak performances.   

Director Leslie Kincaid Burby has worked very well in A La Carte, giving each of these six varied plays a tone that suits it. Each one is an individual, a surprise. The handsome set was designed by Duane Pagano.

Steve Capra
April 2015