Jaclyn Mitgang, Peter Husovksy and Robert Allan perform Theodore
Dreiser’s Sister Carrie in FOODACTS
(Photo credit: Paul Siebold)
Everyone likes food. Well, almost everyone. We’re not talking about the current obsessors, just everyday partakers. And everyone loves word play. Well, make that everyone of a certain bent. We seem to find word play everywhere (even here) because it’s fun, it’s literate, it’s show-offy, it’s old as time and it’s new as the next headline in the tabloids. Tickles people. Especially academics. And when you get a gaggle of academics who’ve fallen under the spell of theater, and they’ve collected umpteen funny, clever, interesting, moving, cutesy quotations from the likes of Thomas Wolfe, Geoffrey Chaucer, Dorothy Parker, Horace, Charles Dickens, George Orwell, Alice B. Toklas, and on and on, Homer, Virginia Woolf, Langston Hughes, Dante, more, more, more, you know they are going to put on a show. In fact, the goal of the company (the company’s name you will not be surprised to know is JEUX DE MOTS trans.WORDPLAY, get it?) purports to “introduce these works on the stage.” They’ve even previously produced a show out of theater reviews, which gives me a squirm or two. But – and you knew that was coming, didn’t you – they forgot the main ingredient.
Now, this show is framed, obviously, on food. And certainly, words. Everyone knows what food is, don’t we, especially the gourmands and gourmets among us as well as the rest of us subsistors. And everyone knows what words are because that’s, well, as obvious as food, we use them all the time. And we play with words more than we play with our food. Most of us. We’ll not discuss hunger, for food or words. Whole other world of discussion not connected to this show. But we have to discuss salt, the savor in food, even supposing all the ingredients are top choice. We need a touch of salt’s pique for true satisfaction even though we try to train ourselves not to want it because too much salt, yada yada yada. Doesn’t that open up a wealth of discussion but let’s keep it simple: we need piquancy in words, too, to savor them, too. And when a company knows words and knows food but leaves out the piquancy, the dramatic piquancy, the timing in telling jokes, the suspense, the conflict, the surprise, the attitude of dramatic form, what’s an audience to do?
Admire the set and costumes by Lui Konno? Okay, they’re adorable. Left out the damn table, though. They talk about it, mime eating at it but made the choice of not having it. No table. In a food show? Whoops. Of course, there is no book for this music-less vaudeville but neither are there vaudeville cards telling us as well as showing us who’s saying and doing what. The why is “Food,” yes, but the acts? True, they’re listed in the menu program, should we attempt to inform ourselves in the dark, but it’s just so much easier to close one’s eyes if you’ve not been engaged by the salt of theater. Only when an actor among the seven performers reaches into himself or herself for seasoning does a literary selection in the long list of them to be performed come to life, such as Antonio Edwards Suarez’s saucy, hilarious take on the Langston Hughes piece, “Simple’s Uncle Sam.” Or Judith Barcroft at table (what table?!) as she delivers Dorothy Parker’s “But on The Right.” For the most part, however, the assumption is that these “Acts” stand on their own, on a firm base of famous name and a rich association with food. Which may make for a good beginning, but the linkage to us, the audience, the dramatic salt that blends us all, and all the quotations together, is left out. And we need it and the show needs it.
We could like these cooks, properly introduced. We eventually winkle out who they are: Robert Allan, overachiever, pounds words into mincemeat; Judith Barcroft, uses her seasoning, knows what she’s doing; Gwen Eyster suggests depths of possible flavor; Antonio Edwards Suarez, loaded with spices, knows how to shake them; Peter Husovsky, taken with a pinch of salt, okay; Jaclyn Mitgang, requires more blending and stirring; Mark Ringer, hints at hidden flavorful depths. Director, chief cook and bottle washer, Barbara Bosch, who also conceived the show, needs to check her recipes. If the show is, indeed, a vaudeville, then she has to polish all the acts and accent their individualities instead of melting them into a common design with tweaks. If it is not, it needs even more direction. So glad nobody got into a food fight. Although…
FOODACTS (through February 24, 2013)
The Lion Theatre @ Theatre Row, 410 West 42nd Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-239-6200 or visit www.telecharge.com