Wendy MacLeod’s SLOW FOOD is a gem of a comedy, served with flourish by Arizona Theatre Company.
It feels a little weird to be relishing someone else’s discomfort, and yet for a laugh-filled ninety minutes that’s exactly what I was doing, lapping up every spoonful of wit flambé in Wendy MacLeod’s hilarious comedy, SLOW FOOD.
The production is the latest in Arizona Theatre Company’s series of online digital play readings, this one co-directed by the company’s Artistic and Associate Artistic Directors, Sean Daniels and Chanel Bragg.
Although promoted as a reading and inviting (welcoming!) audience feedback (signifying Daniels’s commitment to both cultivating new works and promoting audience engagement), something far more is on the menu for those who tune into the play.
Frankly, some online readings can be simply tedious and wooden. What has distinguished ATC’s work thus far (for example, ALMA, which I reviewed in August) is the unique ability to dissolve the walls between the social distancing zoom rooms and, with the benefit of steady direction and superlative performances, serve up thoughtful and compelling productions.
In SLOW FOOD, we are delivered into the dining room of Dmitri’s Greek restaurant…in Palm Springs…on a Sunday evening…dangerously close to closing time…close enough to closing time that speedy service is devoutly to be wished. Not so fast, however!
No such luck for Irene (Daina Griffith) and Peter (Joel Van Liew), whose 23rd Anniversary vacation has turned disastrous. At each turn, their pre-arranged plans have been foiled. Hungry, verging on hangry, they trust that a good dinner at a classy restaurant may now be their saving grace.
The twist in this salty pretzel of a play is in the form of Stephen (mind you, not Steve), the waiter from hell…or, should I say, the waiter we all love to hate. The one who won’t leave us alone, who drowns us in his authority and tends to us like a compulsive baby-sitter. This is a role cut out for Brian Beacock who is perfect as the prickly and flamboyant waiter whose intrusiveness will drive you to drink any beverage other than the one you ordered.
You guessed it! Stephen has an opinion on everything, and rue the minute that either Daina or Peter appears to resist or offend. And, well, if you just happen to be a therapist or a lawyer, don’t be surprised if Stephen claims some reciprocity for his service.
That’s what so great about this play. The tension between Stephen and the couple is palpable. Gosh, it’s relatable; we’ve all been there at some point, haven’t we, in our dining experiences. But, here, at Dmitri’s, Daina and Peter need a break! And they need their food! ASAP!
What enriches MacLeod’s play is that she elevates the action beyond what otherwise might be an SNL skit-on-steroids by providing a close-up of two people coming to terms with the inconvenient truths of their marriage. Sandwiched between those moments dominated by Stephen, they get to speak to the long-unspoken aspects of their relationship, their concerns about their sons’ futures, and their desires for the good life. Life stuff that many, in any kind of relationship, will understand and relate to.
Bottom line: Order some take-out (support your local restaurant), grab a drink, and link up with SLOW FOOD. The experience itself will be your just dessert!
The readings will be available through September 19th at 5:00 p.m. on Arizona Theatre Company’s website (www.arizonatheatre.org), Facebook page, YouTube and Vimeo.
(There is no charge to view the play, but donations to Arizona Theatre Company are encouraged.)
Kudos too to Ido Levran, Technical Director; Mathew Devore, Sound Designer; and Kristi Hess, Production Stage Manager.
Photo credit to ATC ~ L to R: Daina Griffith, Joel Van Liew, Brian Beacock
Arizona Theatre Company ~ www.arizonatheatre.org ~ 1636 N Central Ave, Phoenix, AZ ~ 602-256-6899