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San Francisco by Richard Connema

The Food Chain Is A Scream

Also see Richard's review of Menocchio

The New Conservatory Theatre Center, in conjunction with the Unidentified Theatre Company, is currently presenting Nicky Silver’s dark comedy The Food Chain as part of NCTC’S "Twist and Shout Festival." The production is a scream in more ways than one, and I should add that the word “shout” is very appropriate to this presentation. The Food Chain is being presented in the center's intimate theater with a capacity of 50 people. This farce needs a larger theater to work well, but I give credit to the three males and two females who have challenging roles in making this production work in such a small space.

Nicky Silver is one of the hottest and hippest playwrights around today and his plays are being performed by many regional companies of note. I saw the original off Broadway production at the Westside Theatre in New York in 1995 with Phyllis Newman playing the crisis operator and Hope Davis playing Amanda. The production ran 336 performances. Clive Barnes of the New York Post called the comedy “one of the funniest shows to zoom into New York in years.”

The Food Chain is the playwright’s sly revenge on a society obsessed with physical beauty. He says about his play: “It’s about obsession, neediness and about being attractive.” The play takes place in Manhattan. Amanda (Donna Trousdale), an anorexic poet, has been married for three weeks to independent film producer Ford (Eric Rice). Unfortunately, Ford went out for a walk two weeks prior and has not come back. Amanda, who is already a jumpy person, is at her wits' end, so she calls the crisis hotline. Bea (Maya Mahrer), the phone counselor who is a Jewish mother with problems of her own, attempts to give advice to the talkative Amanda. Since Bea has had a “six hour intensive training session,” she gives her advice like “change into a shorty nightgown, everything looks better in a shorty nightgown.” Ford finally returns at the end of the first scene, but Amanda won’t let him get a word in edgewise. He really does not know if he wants to stay or leave.

The second scene of the first act occurs at the apartment of a gay narcissistic model named Serge (Scott Cox). He is strictly a runway model, but “is not quite good looking enough for print work.” He is waiting for his new lover to move in when an old lover named Otto comes barging into the room carrying several brown bags full of Fritos, Oreos, pretzel and Yodels, yelling and screaming that he has been fired from his emcee job at a night club. Otto is grossly overweight and he is a pathetic loud mouthed individual who is sexually obsessed with Serge because they had a fragile affair four year previous. This obsession has caused poor Otto to gain over 90 pounds during the intervening years. None of these characters would ever be on Father Knows Best or The Brady Bunch.

The Food Chain's second act becomes more complicated when Otto follows Serge, armed with a gun and big bag of bagels, to what happens to be Amanda and Ford’s apartment the following morning. The final scenes are worthy of a Feydeu farce. Nicky Silver is a master of absolute comical, sharp dialogue and sardonic social commentary.

I won’t compare this production with the New York professional production since this is a semi-professional presentation. Donna Trousdale as Amanda goes over the top as the edgy poet. The first forty minutes is nothing but an exposition of her character, and it is almost a solo performance. There are some funny moments and interesting bits as she tells the crisis counselor about her first meeting with Ford, her first sex act during the honeymoon, and walking the streets of New York. She does tend to scream in a shrill voice many times during the 40 minute solo, which is not necessary in this band box of a theater. The shouting distracts from the meat of the performance. Amanda is at her best when she is just conversing with the other characters.

Dawson Moore as Otto wears a body suit that makes him look like the Pillsbury doughboy, and he rolls around like a well-known British television figure known as Bloopy. He stuffs a lot of junk food into his mouth with much of it falling on the floor. He is hysterically funny at times but he also tends to yell on certain occasions as if he is on stage at the Orpheum Theatre.

Scott Cox, one of our better stage-trained actors, is solid as the egomaniacal model. He plays the model like Ben Stiller in Zoolander, and he has his character down pat. He is particularly good in the opening scene of the second act when he looks into a full length looking glass and primps and prances around. It is a comic tour de force of a narcissistic model. He also modulates his voice just right when shouting so that it is not abrasive.

Maya Mahrer is wonderful as the counselor and she has a great Judge Judy accent. Her exchanges with Amanda in the first scene are entertaining. Eric Rice as Ford has very little to do but look confused most of the time. In fact, throughout the whole play he has only two lines.

Set designer Beth Cockrell makes good use of the intimate black box stage by presenting two separate sets. Lighting is also excellent. Director Christopher Jenkins does a good job of presenting the comedy on such a small space. The play is supposed to have two endings and I was under the impression that the audience would chose either a happy or a dark ending at each performance. However, we were informed that the company would alternate the endings, playing the happy ending one night and the dark version the next night. We saw the happy ending. I doubt if I would go back just to see the dark version.

The Food Chain plays through December 1 at the New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness Ave, San Francisco, Ca and tickets can be obtained by calling 415-861-8972 or visiting www.nctcsf.org.


Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area


- Richard Connema



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