Tuesday, June 19, 2012
Theater review: An Empty Plate in the Cafe Du Grand Boeuf at Mesquite Arts Center
No deep meaning, but a pleasant escape from the daily routine.
Mesquite Community Theatre seems to make a point of finding little-known scripts to bring to life on the black box stage of the Mesquite Arts Center and An Empty Plate in the Café Du Grand Boeuf (playing through June 30) is a refreshing journey away from the usual community theater fare. It is the first full-length play written by Michael Hollinger, first performed in Philadelphia in 1994.
The show enjoyed an off-Broadway stint in 2000 with George Wendt (Norm Peterson from Cheers) in the role of Victor. The play is a somewhat dim, though not quite dark, comedy. The flavor of comedy is one that some find difficult to enjoy but I thoroughly enjoyed the oddness of the situation and the dry humor the script contained.
The setting for the show is a restaurant in Paris, circa 1960, and the cast consists mostly of the café staff – a waitress, busboy, chef, and maitre d' - who anxiously await the arrival of the café owner, Victor. A late appearance by the owner's traveling companion seems unnecessary to the plot but finishes the cast list. The somewhat absurd situation – a restaurant whose only customer is its owner – can be forgiven to allow for a story that is worthy of the telling.
The design by Doug Luke gave the general impression of a restaurant, although it could have been a restaurant anywhere in the world and in any time period. Likewise, the costuming, which I assume was the responsibility of the cast members since there was no credit given in the playbill, did not assist the audience in determining the setting in which we were being included. In fact, other than Mimi's outfit late in the show, none of the hairstyles or costumes lent themselves to the early 1960s, and it wasn't until Mimi delivered a line talking about President Kennedy that I was reminded of the time period the show was meant to depict.
Lighting design by Scott Croy seemed unplanned, as the set was basically lit the same throughout the show. Jackie Kemp who played Victor even had to find his spotlight during an important scene in the second act. Sound design by Steve Cummings was nearly nonexistent, so much so that when sound effects were added late in the second act I found myself trying to reconcile its use at that moment, rather than earlier in the script and it became distracting.
Kemp was convincing as a morose, yet vocal Victor. Prone to quoting Hemingway as he told his own stories, the play revealed several significant events in his life through short periods of storytelling which busboy Antoine, played by Jared Evans, and was tasked with recording on a tiny notebook with a golf pencil.
All of the staff, who was supposed to be French, came across as distinctly American. Alex Wade delivered a somewhat convincing interpretation of the role as the maitre d', Claude, whose sole purpose in life seemed to be delivering whatever Victor wanted and providing the best service through his staff.
Robert Dullnig, in the role of Gaston, presented the most convincing character interpretation of the show, often delivering dry one-liners with great timing and generating the most laughs from the audience. Kylie Sheeler showed some promise in her role as Mimi, the waitress who also happens to be married to Claude and who is the apple of Gaston's eye, despite her marital status. Sheeler occasionally presented stiff, unrealistic movements and seemed to be awaiting her next line, but pulled off the essence of the part in an acceptable way. Evans seemed slightly distracted in the role of Antoine and delivered an unconvincing stammer, often stepping out of character to snicker at his own jokes. He seemed to lack direction and often stood in place, pencil at the ready, for awkward lengths of time.
Ludi Askins, in the role of Miss Berger, appeared late in the show and the delivery of her lines were halting and nervous and she seemed uncomfortable with the role. One of the final scenes, which paired Kemp and Askins as a couple who was at a turning point in a well-developed, six-year relationship, was full of lost potential because of the awkwardness of Askins' performance.
Overall, the play provided a pleasant escape from routine. If you are looking for a show with deep meaning and great theatrics, you will be disappointed, but if you are looking to spend an enjoyable evening with a unique comedy, a few laughs and an interesting story, this show will satisfy that craving.
Pegasus News Content partner - John Garcia's The Column
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