by David Lally · April 14, 2015
THE INCREDIBLE EGG: Robert Bruce McIntosh, Desiree Matthews | Gerry Goodstein
I realized when I sat down at the WorkShop Theater Company’s space on West 36th Street last Saturday night that I had never seen a mainstage play at this prolific off-off Broadway space. I picked the perfect show to whet my appetite. A la Carte: A Feast of New Plays, is six plays inspired by food, written by playwrights and featuring ensemble members of the WorkShop.
The first and longest piece is The Cook and The Soldier by Allen Knee. In it, an encounter in the Port Authority Bus Terminal between Molly, a 16 year old high schooler and part time bellydancer who yearns to be a cook for the rock band Pussy Riot, meets Tom, an emotionally damaged, AWOL soldier. As their odd relationship develops, both learn that they need to grow up. Molly’s home life is awful, with a mother who cares more about The Real Housewives than her own daughter, and a father who peddles cheap costume jewelry. Tom has switched identities with a dead soldier and has decided to live off the grid by living under the grid of the bus station. It’s an unexpectedly touching play and both Tess Frazer as Molly and Joe Boover as Tom make their characters resonate.
Laurie Graff’s The Incredible Egg is a premise we’ve seen countless times before: A couple trying to get pregnant. In this case, the couple (Adam and Eden, get it?) are debating trying a new method of fertilization where Adam uses egg whites as a lubricant that will supposedly help Eden’s egg get to Adam’s sperm. It’s all a bit scrambled and feels more like an extended joke, and ultimately, doesn’t hit the target. But in an evening like this, you know if you don’t like one play, the next one is coming along shortly.
The third is worth waiting for: completely switching gears to laugh-out loud comedy, Scott C. Sickles’s Popcorn goes down easy. Stan and Kip are step-brothers and Kip has to watch Nigella Lawson’s cooking show for a school project. While the cool, casual Stan sits and makes jokes about the absurdity of the project, the more studious and serious Kip tries to brush him off. But suddenly a moment of passion sparked by Nigella’s soothing voice, creates a “what the hell just happened” moment that I won’t spoil here. Nigella’s comments are timed perfectly and serve almost as commentary to the events taking place in the basement lounge. Joe Boover, taking on the role of Stan here, is hysterical, and the play is a hoot. A fitting closer to the first half.
After the intermission, things stay on the lightweight track with the next two entries: Fish Food by Laura Hirschberg and Palate Cleanser by Gary Giovannetti. In the first, a man wakes up to discover himself in the belly of the beast with a cleaning woman/caretaker/angel who challenges his very existence. Alternately funny and serious, the play considers what it takes to overcome doubt and common sense to live another day. The second piece is reminiscent of any good Carl Reiner/Mel Brooks sketch. Here the sketch premise works to hilarious effect and Bob Manus is a living, breathing Brooks. He is drop dead funny and almost steals the show out from all the other actors.
The final piece brings us back to some seriousness. In Eat Dessert First by Dana Leslie Goldstein, an estranged daughter arrives at her cookbook author mother’s apartment after her death to go through her belongings and pack things up. As she starts to sort through her mother’s things and checks in with her husband and kids, she remembers her mother bit by bit and wonders if her mother loved her. She finds her answer in the cookbooks, pots and pans and memories her mother has left behind. Though Mary Ruth Baggot as the daughter and Susan Izatt as the mother have very little interaction through most of the play, I was worried that this piece might become static. But it ends up being the opposite. Through restrained use of interaction between mother and daughter, playwright Goldstein actually increases the tension and it makes for a perfect show closer. A sad, touching, yet ultimately heartwarming, piece.
All are directed effortlessly by Leslie Kincaid Burby. I especially liked how Ms. Burby utilized the entire set and its pieces for each play, starting with a very full set and props for The Cook and The Soldier to the stripping away of the set as the daughter packs up her mother’s apartment in Eat Dessert First. Appropriate songs bring us in and out of each play and the transitions are great.
A La Carte all goes down easy and makes for a great sampler of an evening.