In Caroline’s Kitchen, British playwright Torben Betts (Invincible, The Unconquered, Muswell Hill) has written a state of the nation farce which has no laughs. As the play under the title Monogamy has been very successful in England, it is possible that it just too British for American audiences. Similar to the plays of Alan Ayckbourn in dealing with middle-class people confronted with chaos not entirely of their own making, Caroline’s Kitchen unfortunately has only unlikable, self-absorbed characters caught up in a series of situations that simply get worse without having us on their side. Don’t blame the actors in this Original Theatre Company and Ghost Light Theatre co-production if Betts’ characters are unsympathetic although that may be his take on the nation at this moment in time.
Caroline Mortimer, Britain’s most popular television chef who may have a drinking problem, is known as “the perfect woman with the perfect life and the perfect marriage, in the perfect house with the perfect friends.” Very quickly we find out none of this is true. Having just wrapped up the rehearsal for the final episode of the current season in her own kitchen where the show is taped, she wants to be left alone to finish planning a congratulatory dinner for her son Leo who has just graduated with a First from Cambridge University.
Just before Leo arrives with some surprising and shocking news of his own, her new assistant Amanda, who has a problem with cocaine, informs her that a tabloid newspaper is planning to release photos showing Caroline on a drunken spree several nights before and she doesn’t know how much damage this will do to Caroline’s career or if she can stop it. Leo arrives to announce that he is moving to Syria for two years to help with manual labor. He is also heartbroken over a romantic relationship that has just ended badly and has not revealed his true sexuality to his father with whom he does not get along.
Caroline, it transpires, has been having an affair with hunky carpenter Graeme who has hired to do some work in their multimillion dollar mansion she wishes to sell in order to move closer to her terminally ill mother in Cornwall. It being Graeme’s last day he wants to talk to Caroline about their future relationship. The woman she is expecting to look over the house turns out to be none other than Sally, Graeme’s psychotic wife who has gone off her meds that morning when discovering Caroline’s erotic texts to Graeme on his cell phone which he had inadvertently left home that morning.
While the lonely Amanda, still suffering from the death of her mother two months ago, attempts to get a date with Graeme, Caroline’s retired banker husband Mike returns from golf and tries romancing Sally. A man in his seventies, he also appears to be having intimations of mortality which may be sped up by his fury at his son’s revelations. The night before he had apologized for his current affair but is totally unaware of his wife’s relationship with Graeme. And then a terrible seemingly apocalyptic storm begins with both thunder and lightning and begins destroying their garden. Pessimistic Leo is not the least bit surprised as he has been making pronouncements like “The end of the world is nigh et cetera,” “Someone has to take responsibility for the state of the nation,” and “…we’ll probably all be dead by the end of the century.”
Playwright Betts may be saying that the world is now made up of people who are so self-absorbed that they deserve the trouble that they get. Unfortunately, the piling up of one crisis after another is not as comic or as much fun as it was supposedly meant to be and the play becomes tiresome as the situation continues to spiral downward into a domestic catastrophe without anyone able to save the situation. James Perkins’ totally realistic but bland kitchen set is trashed as the play goes on making this an evening from hell.
Director Alastair Whatley’s cast is completely believable saddled with one-note roles. As Caroline, the famous television chef, Caroline Langrishe keeps her cool in the midst of tremendous provocation, although it might be more fun for the audience if she had lost her equilibrium at some point. Jasmyn Banks’ Amanda is a fine portrait of an upwardly mobile twentysomething who doesn’t take no for an answer. As Caroline’s unhappy son Leo, Tom England is about as depressed as you can get without being suicidal, while Elizabeth Boag as Graeme’s betrayed wife Sally unravels before our eyes as Mike keeps plying her with the champagne meant to toast Leo’ graduation. James Sutton is amusing as the dimwitted Graeme formerly a footballer who fails to understand most of what is going on. As Caroline’s husband Mike, Aden Gillett who first appears with a terrible sunburn is a man with a big temper and a great many regrets.
Much of the play is directed at too slow a pace for farce as the point is the ironic and outrageous coincidences that happen one after another. Perkins’ costumes for the six characters are as bland as the set which misses a wonderful opportunity for satire. While Max Pappenheim’s sound design gets a great deal out of the storm effects, lighting designer Chris Withers does not do enough with the lightning effects for this apocalyptic event.
Torben Betts’ Caroline’s Kitchen has all the elements for a wonderful farce with serious overtones. However, as seen in Alastair Whatley’s production for the Original Theatre Company and Ghost Light Theatre production, it feels tiresomely long and labored in its attempt to bring down the roof on a group of egotistical modern Englishmen and women at work and play in contemporary Britain.
Caroline’s Kitchen (through May 25, 2019)
Brits Off Broadway 2019
Original Theatre Company, Ghost Light Theatre & Eilene Davidson
Theater A, 59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 646-892-7999 or visit http://www.59E59.org
Running time: one hour and 35 minutes with no intermission