GLENS FALLS — Downtown Glens Falls is anything but ‘slow’ these days, thanks in part to the return of the Adirondack Theatre Festival at the Charles R. Wood Theater. In addition to outdoor dining and movie showings in City Park, ATF played host to live music with their SHOWS ON THE SIDE series and an absolutely delightful production of SLOW FOOD by Wendy MacLeod.
Directed by ATF’s founder, Martha Banta, SLOW FOOD features the talent and comedic genius from three industry gems: David Beach (SOMETHING ROTTEN!, MAMMA MIA!), Tyrone Mitchell Henderson (Bring in ‘da Noise Bring in ‘da Funk – national tour, Orange is the New Black), and two-time TONY nominee Johanna Day (Proof, Sweat).
The play, written in 2015 and published in 2019, tells the story of a jet-lagged married couple (Beach, Day) looking for a bite to eat in a cozy Palm Springs Greek restaurant. Their well-intentioned and overzealous waiter Stephen (Henderson) prioritizes the experiential side of dining out, despite the famished couple’s pleas for quick service after a long day of travel. Little do they realize, their waiter is being attentive to them, but perhaps not in the way they had initially expected.
While the play is a giant metaphor for the nature of developing, maintaining, and ‘marinating’ relationships through the mundane phases of life, SLOW FOOD is chock full of comedic moments and Friday night’s audience could hardly catch a breath in between belly laughs.
Beach commandeered the audience with his brilliant facials, full body storytelling, and zippy one-liners. Underneath the gruff and “hangry” interactions, which were both hilarious and relatable, Beach also brought sensitivity and humility to the forefront. We laughed with him as he attempted to flag down the waiter (masterful physical comedy – all of my theatre students have been advised to attend and take notes!) and I wasn’t the only one in the audience wiping away a tear as he tenderly and beautifully serenaded his wife of 23 years. David Beach simply delighted in every way.
Henderson’s portrayal of the emotionally needy, passive aggressive waiter went far beyond the surface level. Masked in sarcasm and over the top joviality, Henderson lent a sensitivity and arc to the character, helping the audience to realize that those we think to be “attention-seeking” are really looking for human connection and validation of their contributions to their community.
Despite her dowdy beige hoodie and worn out yoga pants, as referenced in the text, Johanna Day absolutely shined on stage. Her strength of character and confidence permeated the theater. In a word, I was awe-struck. Day’s innate ability to connect with the audience transported us into the restaurant. Ever so subtle, I found myself focusing on her every physical stance; each conveyed story and purpose in her character, Irene’s, story. In a role that could be misconstrued as an unhappy, neglected spouse, Day brought strength for enduring the wait time and hope for the good and rewarding things to come.
Adding to the experience was a stunning set designed by Bob Barnett. The attention to detail received much praise as audience members settled into their seats. Isabel Rubio’s costuming seamlessly paired. While sound and light cues were minimal, they were masterfully designed by Chris Reed, Jr., Matt Frey, and Celia Frey to be perfectly ambient to the setting. Both perfectly complemented the exquisite set and compelling characters.
Kudos and accolades must be given to Martha Banta and the ATF Board of Directors for this poignant and thoughtful programming in the company’s post-pandemic return. Truthfully, the play had moments where the plot points felt redundant. In fact, there were two or three moments where I simply wanted to advise the characters to slap a $20 bill on the table to cover the drinks the couple did received and head out to grab fast food. But the characters, much like the world over the past sixteen months, weathered the storm of a ‘Groundhog’s Day’ way of life – reliving the same plot point with very little end in sight. I can’t help but wonder if, without those stretches of redundancy, I might not have appreciated the show’s ending as much as I did.
Much like Stephen the waiter’s dedication to providing exceptional and experiential service, the Adirondack Theatre Festival and Wood Theater Box office personnel have thought of every possible detail to make your return a memorable and safe experience. Checking in to the theater involves more than scanning a ticket’s barcode. Proof of vaccination is required prior to entering the Wood but to accommodate longer wait times, ATF has set up their SHOWS ON THE SIDE series. Live music acts are performing thirty minutes before each show this season in a make-shift stage area in the alley adjacent to the theater. I had the great pleasure of watching local favorite, Tommy Socolof, sing and tap dance as I waited to check in. A partnership has also been forged with a restaurant just across the street. Show your ticket’s barcode and enjoy a free drink, appetizer, or dessert. To Wendy MacLeod’s credit, the savory details of the menu’s offerings and the hungry despair of the couple had us feeling the need to satiate with good food and a crisp, cold Sam Adams.
As many of us wait to board Amtrak and celebrate Broadway’s September reopening, be sure to whet your appetite with seasoned Broadway professionals in our backyard. I promise this has been worth the wait.
SLOW FOOD runs until 7/31
Tickets are available at www.atfestival.org.