When a show has an 11:00 p.m. curtain, it had better be an energetic and dynamically paced piece of theatre, lest sleepy audiences lose interest. I’m happy to say that Oh, Gastronomy! has an abundance of these qualities, making it an easy, accessible and hugely enjoyable experience.
Essentially, it’s a “feast of fools” format preoccupied with food in all its aspects – where it comes from, how to cook it, how and where to eat it – all presented in a series of sketches and songs from the pen of five different writers. Not unexpectedly, there is some variance in the quality and impact among the variety of small pieces. But the structure and overall presentation propel the action so swiftly that any lackluster moments are nearly obliterated from memory.
Most of the material is comic, including a few reoccurring scenarios that develop some narrative threads and bring cohesion to the revue format. Michael Golamco’s Ordering series uses various interactions with waiters (in every instance the scabrously funny Amir Wachterman) to explore the emotional memories of food, the minefield of choosing menu items free of politically incorrect associations, and food as commodity in an escalating negotiation. The simple metaphors neatly illustrate how much we take food for granted.
Fear and Loathing at the Food Truck, parts 1-4, by Carson Kreitzer, stages a series of scenes in and around a gourmet, exotic-flavor ice cream truck and a woman selling organic micro-greens at a nearby table. There is nicely observed character interaction, including a budding romance that is vividly played by Maggie Raymond and Jonathan Finnegan.
Calvin Smith and Zoe Sophia Garcia enact a developing series of moments between student and teacher in segments by Mr. Moulds that are some of the more thoughtful pieces. Mr. Smith would seem to dominate with his expert ability to draw laughter, but Ms. Garcia imbues her wordless character with an inner glow and steady calibration of movement that anchor the depth of the material.
Yet some of the greatest impact comes from individual pieces: Steve Moulds’ Artisanal Foods Anonymous hilariously satirizes both support group dynamics and the current trendy obsession with highly specialized hand-crafted foods that carry a snobbish appeal. Mr. Kreitzer’s Tomatoes pays overt and heartfelt homage to the traditions of family-run farms; while Tanya Saracho explores the connection between food, weight and self-image in A Numbers Game, which flirts with abstraction but is given emotional resonance by the well-judged work of Liz Malarkey, Katie Medford and Nick Vannoy. In The Last Supper, another of Mr. Galamco’s pieces, the comedy and pathos were perfectly balanced, as the unspoken details of one character’s apparent fate were wisely underplayed. These more sober pieces give the pace of the program just enough room to breathe and the audience something to think about, so that it does not feel worn out by the overwhelming comic energy of the evening.
That energy was matched by a standing-room-only opening night audience that responded with verbal appreciation that, in effect, became part of the performance. Cheers and whoops of delight were frequent, and seemed to further energize the enthusiastic work of the cast of Apprentice Company members. The liberal use of music, played entirely onstage by the cast, was also a key factor in this, ranging from a boisterously funny opening number about a Derby Pie eating contest, to a brief and delicate solo number about a child’s simple understanding of food being made complex in a modern world that was charmingly rendered by Erika Diehl. Best of all in the musical numbers (all composed by Matt Schatz) was CSA Battle, in which the competition between CSAs is memorably manifested in a full-on rap war.
Even the weaker writing was delivered with such conviction, and welcomed so enthusiastically, that it hardly mattered. Ms. Saracho’s Banana Girl is an obvious and distinctly one-note idea, yet it stirred up a raucous response from the audience that owed much to Lisa Dring’s go-for-broke commitment to its execution.
Oh, Gastronomy! is this year’s Humana showcase for the Actors Theatre Acting Apprentice Company – an evening intended to embrace and spotlight the talents of the hard-working young people who give almost a year of their lives to serve with this company. It accomplishes that goal very effectively; and it is that youthful, eager-to-please energy that blew the roof of the Bingham Theatre last night – and makes this production a must-see.
March 16-April 1
Part of the 36th Humana Festival of New American Plays
Tim & Dair Mathistad
Katie & Chris Haulter
Kathy Todd Chaney
Angie Reed Garner