Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco

Cooking With Elvis Is Food, Sex And Elvis Presley At The Phoenix Theatre

Also see Richard's review of The Three Sisters

British playwright Lee Hall's Cooking with Elvis is making its West Coast premiere at the Phoenix Theatre. Lee Hall's most notable effort in writing was the screenplay of Billy Elliott. This outrageously dark farce debuted during the 1999 Edinburgh Fringe Festival where it was highly acclaimed, then moved to the Whitehall Theatre on March 14, 2000 where it received mixed reviews. The London Financial Times called it "macabre and hilarious." The American premiere took place in Boston in 2001.

This comedy of sexual manners is about food and sex, with Elvis Presley thrown in for good measure. It's a 90 minute, fast-paced charade that is calculatingly crude, a comedy of seduction with surreal elements that you would not take your Aunt Hilda from Iowa to see.

Stuart oversees the sweets department of a large bakery in the northern Part of England. He is somewhat of a nerd. Stuart is drawn to an extraordinary dysfunctional British family who would make any American dysfunctional look like the Partridges. The family consists of a quadriplegic father (Lol Levy), who was a lipsynching Elvis impersonator until a car accident left him confined to a wheelchair; he cannot move or talk. His wife (Linda Ayres-Frederick) is a sex-mad school teacher. There is a strange 14 year old daughter, Jill (Lauren Grace), who just loves to cook up ghoulish gourmet dishes. She also narrates this weird tale. Stuart moves into this bizarre household and, as in Entertaining Mr. Sloan, he sexually satisfies everyone, including the father. I won't go into specifies, but it is most graphic. Also, part of the cast is Stanley the pet tortoise who does very little acting.

It can't be denied that this show is cunningly unsophisticated and a farce that will not appeal to everyone. That said, I found a certain perverse pleasure watching the four actors interact with each other.

Outstanding is Lol Levy who slumps around in a wheelchair dressed in a white jumpsuit and rhinestones with a Presley haircut. He jumps from his chair several times to regale the audience with a great imitation of The King. He does not lipsynch, but uses the Presley voice. He is remarkable, and his songs fit the movement of the play. Linda Ayres-Frederick is great as Mom with a marvelous North England accent. She plays the role like a woman constantly in heat. Lauren Grace as the strange young girl is exceptional, and her thesis on what members of society ate in earlier periods of history is a hoot. Rounding out the cast is David Austin-Groen who plays Stuart with an asexual wimpiness.

Cooking With Elvis runs thru June 14th at the Phoenix Theatre, 414 Mason Street, San Francisco. For tickets call 415-989-0023.

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

- Richard Connema

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