Pick a profession, any profession. No matter where you work, you're going to be faced with certain issues: when to advance, when to not, when to switch to a different job within that field, when to get out altogether.
Its success in depicting the working experience is what really makes Nick Hall's Eat Your Heart Out, in a new production at the Trilogy Theatre, work. The show is ostensibly about a New York actor, Charlie, supporting himself by working as a waiter at various Manhattan restaurants until his big break comes along, but it's really about anyone with big dreams facing the possibility that, however vital or sought after they may be, those dreams might not come true.
Eat Your Heart Out is predominantly concerned with Charlie examining and re-evaluating those dreams as he moves from restaurant to restaurant as career opportunities demand. Charlie's attempts at living the life that is not only best for him but best for others make this otherwise light comedy weightier than you might expect; Charlie wants to succeed artistically and ethically, and he faces even the slightest lapse in either with great trepidation.
And though those moments are often quite serious, Hall always keeps the script funny, with fine characters and simple and clean writing. If a few of his situations are a bit contrived - Charlie's mock audition for a major cookie promotion in an Upper East Side bistro smacks of sitcom writing - he does capture the actor's mentality and the New York stomping ground quite well. (The idea of a Poe-themed restaurant named Tintinnabulation would happen in New York if it would happen anywhere.)
Director Nancy S. Chu brings Hall's quirky nature fully through in her production; even the scene changes (which often consist only of removing or changing the tablecloths on the three tables on the show's otherwise bare set) seem to go hand-in-hand with the dialogue. Costume designer Mindy Nelson's work is simple, but effective enough to instantly distinguish each of Charlie's six employers, and Rebekah Bateman's thoughtful lighting designs successfully set the mood and location of every scene.
Marc Diraison has an ingratiating, humorous charm and a fine matter-of-fact line delivery that makes Charlie simultaneously completely real and very theatrical. David Brainard, playing all the older men in the story, is generally a bit more over-the-top, but gets a few of the show's funniest and most moving moments. (Both Diraison and Brainard were in this show's 1996 production at Center Stage.) Marlene Hamerling is highly chameleonic in her rapidly switching roles as all the show's older women, and Katie Honaker, playing the younger women (including a potential love interest for Charlie) has an attractive youthful Úlan.
Finally there's Jim Kane, who plays a number of younger men, though not all with equal definition of character. But his work is some of the show's most important, not just because he gets some of the best lines (including the delightfully surprising curtain line), but because his major character - Harry, another waiter at one of Charlie's restaurants - provides an opposing point of view, that of the worker as the ultimate pragmatist rather than the ultimate optimist.
The second act's opening scene finds Harry and Charlie discussing at length the issue of what makes an actor successful: satisfying your potential or gaining financial security? It's Eat Your Heart Out's most vital scene, its very statement of purpose, whether about acting or any career. It's beautifully handled by Diraison and Kane, and they - with Chu's help - tap into the universality of Hall's entertaining and pertinent look at how to learn what you what and get it once you do.
Hamylet Theatre Company