I decided to go into Manhattan and catch opening night for my birthday. It was another nice transit authority quality time with a kid. When we are on the subway we talk, and unlike the car, there is no radio to fight over and you can look at one-another.
While Chandler prepped I went out and went to Rice and Beans a Brazillian place on 9th ave that I’ve been wanting to go to. I actually really liked the food, though it was much more upscale than I was comfortable with and I ordered an inexpensive dish because I don’t treat myself when I should (and I over indulge myself when I shouldn’t). Here is what I wrote before I ate:
Its my birthday I’m sitting alone @ a pretentious Brazillian joint on 9th ave waiting for my food. Smooth samba washes over the crowd of Manhattanites searching for authentic exotic.
(The fact that I was sitting alone in a restaurant typing on my crackberry says I lack the refined skill of irony.) After I gobbled down the sautéed vegetables, sweet plantains, collard greens and red beans I was more charitable about the crowd.
MMMM, Chandler’s play, is near the end of the short play festival, next to the last as I recall. The scene is four “girls” laying about on the floor talking about their favorite foods. They are eating junk-food. Hardly a word or sentence gets finished with each of them riffing on the observations of the previous. Chandler’s obsession is chocolate. I suppose I could include lines from the script (which I had to make sure that this was legit and not exploitative), but I’ll summarize it here now by saying that Chandler’s part is in love with Chocolate, and she brought to life this obsession in a way that is completely different than the way she actually loves Chocolate (she is a 13-year-old so chocolate is still very important). When her character is soliloquizing on chocolate the dream of someone else steals my daughter and she is truly suppressing someone else’s anxieties by dreaming of the sweet commodity. Seeing Chandler there being someone else was a strange experience for the dad who has to wake her for school every morning. Her hard work has paid off and she is, indeed, an actress working in the trade.
The play itself, which Chandler is only one of the cogs in, is about comfort food and its ability to evoke or suppress feelings. From what I got watching it last night one of the characters had recently lost her mom. The dialogue does not didactically spell this out. Instead we have to glean this from the subtle reactions and interaction of the women on stage. Most of the time the foods that they soliloquize, in-between interruptions and sparse Mametian dialogue for four “girls,” are cleverly symbolic. Chandler’s chocolate was a straightforward paean to the commodity that gave flavor to the sugar trade. I found the pickle soliloquy a bit racy, but chandler claims not to get any of it and it was hysterical. I wonder if any of the older cast members have explained any of the double entendres to her. The vegetarian soliloquy was the most opaque because it dealt with an absence, so the cast member goes on and on about Thanksgiving dinner but leaves out the turkey and defends its absence.
I’m not sure what to make of it other than it sounded like the most reasonable “Last Supper,” which if I’m not mistaken was the working title of “MMMMMMM.” The title change makes the play more amorphous and, I think, less preachy. The payoff was, strangely, grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup. I guess that is the ultimate comfort food of a certain era. I think of it as the culinary sound track to the 60s suburban childhood I never had. Writing the play around retro-comfort-food was clever and kind of strange after Gus’s pickles, a vegetarian Thanksgiving and chocolate (CHOCOLATE, MY CHOCOLATE). I felt like the play with its intricate and precise direction and dialogue receded to comfort food as a default suggesting that, perhaps, comfort is lowest common denominator consumption, rather than something that will nourish and enrich us.
The other short plays, which ranged from good to confusing, deserve a shout-out here:
The first play was about the lack of boundaries in an office with three women who behave strangely when drunk come to work on a Monday. I was torn between the cluelessness of Jen Taher’s new hire and the coming-out saga of the newly sober Jessica Hendrick. Kim Gainer’s imperious queen bee drunk (and object of desire) was awful in its realism.
The second play, “Dr. Oz and the Secret of Longevity,” in which Chandler has a cameo, was a hilarious and tragic trip back to my 1980s (well except for the fact that the short play was longer than 70% of my relationships in the 80s). The adulteryed (cuckolded) polite husband and the stoner dealer without boundaries both broke my heart with their inability to understand Phyllis Johnson’s relapsed character. The canned food seemed gratuitous, but the insane denial in the face of bureaucratic defeat on the part of Miss Pugh. The ineffectualness of Erwin Thomas as the husband holding on to a marriage to a relapsing wife was painful (especially now that I am married). Craig Peugh as the tactless stoner/dealer was an amusing bit of work. The timing and interaction was one of the elements that made this play work so well.
“Eugene’s Got to Eat” was a strange post-modern amalgam of issues that add up to a prolonged metaphor on addiction and recovery. The cast was amazing, but the symbolism was a bit heavy. I think it should have followed through with the lucha-libre mask from the onset and gone into the surreal rather than making it a domestic addiction story. I want to say that the music and syncopation did work, but I would have liked more story.
I had the embarrassing honor of being a fake guest in “The People Who Make it Happen, Hatred For.” This parody of a daytime TV show cooking segment was funny (once I stopped shaking). Jennifer Avery Semrick made the maniacal faux cheer of TV Hosts really scary. I had once entertained the fantasy of going to one of these shows taped in New York, but seeing this made me want no part of “TV-Life.”