If there are any tickets left, get to Dorset Theatre Festival to see “Slow Food” by Wendy MacLeod (“The House of Yes”) starring Peri Gilpin & Dan Butler (“Roz” and “Bulldog” of “Frasier” fame) and an actor new to me, Greg Stuhr directed by the estimable Jackson Gay (the jaw dropping “Make Believe” at Hartford Stage).
When’s the last time you went to a comedy and the play was stopped multiple times for applause at laugh lines? When the opening scene and its characters were so sharply etched that the first actor to leave got exit applause 10 minutes into the play? When the harmonies of an acapella song sweetly sung at the play’s conclusion drew applause that delayed the curtain call? When that curtain call was a spontaneous standing ovation that grew with the actor’s exit requiring the actors to re-enter for second bows? Believe me, these cheers are well-earned and you need to experience these giddy thrills from the audience again.
Irene (Peri Gilpin underplaying pricelessly) and Peter (Dan Butler dancing up to the edge of hysteria) are on an anniversary trip to Palm Springs and things are not going their way. It’s Sunday night, the rental agency didn’t have their reserved car, their hotel doesn’t have the hot tub, and everywhere they go the restaurants are closed until they get to a charming little Greek taverna (picture perfect set by Antje Ellermann, lit superbly by Michael Giannitti, great costumes by Fabian Fidel Aguilar) where they hope for a relaxing meal after a tough day traveling.
There they are waited on by the most problematic server in the history of American theater, Stephen played by Greg Stuhr using every crayon in his box. Stephen “with a ph, not a v,” he instructs, needs to insert himself into every decision and educate his customers on their choices while anointing himself the conductor of the pace of the evening. Check the title. “The world may be your oyster but the pace is slow.” At first, you think, they can’t possibly make a play out of this thin premise but it’s like watching a magic trick and its variations a dozen times and still shaking your head at the reveal. The play surprises, captivates and delights again and again.
The battle lines are drawn pretty quickly when Peter orders a Sam Adams instead of one of the micro-brew IPA’s being recommended. We have a great time watching Dan Butler’s mounting frustration as he attempts to negotiate, capitulate and manipulate with a hysterical flirtation just to get a beer and dinner in this restaurant. Stuhr is brilliantly assertive and arch, he owns the floor and his guests like he’s working the Big Room in Vegas and is a great foil to the poor travelers need for comfort and sustenance. Perri Gilpin is the soul of patience and kindness until she’s not and when she finally becomes untethered, it is a welcome highlight.
Under all these primary wants and needs provoking gales of laughter, Wendy MacLeod has created real people and the brilliant Jackson Gay has guided her actors to walk the razor-thin line between caricature and character. There is a feast of laughs derived from the situation and these people and Ms. MacLeod has a sharp way with a line that had me barking with laughter: “It’s sort of easy to understand how people throughout history have eaten each other.” “This isn’t service, this is a hostage situation.” There are also covert missions for a bread basket, the prized Sam Adams and the last braised lamb special from the kitchen. Beneath it all though, and sometimes nakedly apparent, you feel the fear of these vulnerable people who are aging uncomfortably and don’t know what the future will bring and whether they will get what they think they need. There is real talk about financial disparity, health issues and life choices shared among all the characters that are very moving and marvelously played by the trio.
Every audience member who leaped to their feet opening night went home and told someone they knew that they “Had to see this show!” So, I hope there are still tickets to this fun evening but if not, it’s been published by Dramatists Play Service. You could order it and read it and recommend it to your local theatre. Congratulations to Dorset Theatre Festival for snagging it for its regional premiere and doing such an excellent job presenting it. Huzzah!
All Photos by Joey Moro