“Eat Dessert First” by Dana Leslie Goldstein is the most accomplished and was saved for last. It’s a poignant memory play about a high-powered career woman going through her recently deceased mother’s possessions. She was a minor celebrity as a cookbook author. Susan Izatt was sensational as the pink Chanel suited, unconventional food authority whose beliefs included having pancakes for dinner and eating dessert first. With her husky voice, wry delivery, and comedic depth, she was wonderfully reminiscent of Eileen Heckart. Mary Ruth Baggott as the daughter was very compelling, bringing great focus and an intensity of emotion.
“There’s this group of girls, punk rockers from Russia. They call themselves Pussy Riot. I love saying their name…Pussy Riot. My dream is to cook for them,” says the ebullient 16-year old Molly who works as a belly dancer in “The Cook and the Soldier” by Allan Knee, the opening play. At 30 minutes, it is the longest and is a touching character study that is like something Paddy Chayefsky might have written in the 1950’s for The Golden Age of Television. While walking through The Port Authority Bus Terminal on the way to the club she works at, she encounters Tom, in his late 20’s, a self-described “damaged” soldier who served in Afghanistan. A complicated romance ensues as she feeds him her creations of vegetarian sandwiches. Tess Frazer and Joe Boover are luminous and heartbreaking as the young couple. Tom Berdik and Lauren Riddle skillfully appear in various other roles. There is also an exciting belly dance sequence choreographed by Raveena.
Mr. Boover is also featured in the humorous “Popcorn”, by Scott C. Sickles, as a straight 17-year-old sexually exploring with his gay 17-year old stepbrother, while watching a television cooking show with exotic popcorn recipes. His performance here is delightfully animated and in stark contrast to his work in the previous play, and shows his considerable talent. Cody Keown is charmingly low key and believable as the other young man. Susan Izatt appears here as the clueless mother, and Virginia Roncetti is hilarious in her voice over role as the saucy British television host.
“Am I wearing a chef’s hat? Do I look like David Chang or Emeril to you?” bellows Jesus Christ in the sly 10 minute “Palate Cleanser,” by Gary Giovannetti. He is played by the bearded, bespectacled Bob Manus with terrific Borsht Belt timing, as Jesus confronts a snide Yelp reviewer of his food miracles, drolly played by C.K. Allen.
In the absurdist “Fish Food,” by Laura Hirschberg, Mr. Allen again appears with great pathos as a suicidal man who finds himself inside a whale, confronted by a cheery angel raucously played by Lauren Riddle.
Robert Bruce McIntosh and Desirée Matthews are a marvelously zany Manhattan couple franticly trying to conceive in Laurie Graff’s witty “The Incredible Egg.”
Scenic designer Duane Pagano’s clever unit set functions as the numerous locales. Lighting designer Diana Duecker and sound designer Joe Marquet’s work ably assists in transitioning between the differing works. Costume designer Catherine Siracusa has outfitted the cast realistically.
Leslie Kincaid Burby is the director of all of these diverse plays. To have selected this fine cast who all give superior performances, staged them all expertly, and realized the potential of each work is triumphant achievement. Her work combined with the fine writing and excellent ensemble makes A la Carte: A Feast of New Plays, a very fulfilling theatrical event.
A la Carte: A Feast of New Plays (through May 2, 2015)
Workshop Theater Company
Workshop Theater, 312 West 36th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 866-811-4111 or visit http://www.workshoptheater.org
Running time: two hours and fifteen minutes with one intermission