Loonies let loose in `Food Chain'


Review: Nicky Silver strikes again with a trio of comic stories at AXIS.

November 15, 1999|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

"I'm starving. I haven't eaten in minutes," an obese character frantically announces in Nicky Silver's edgy comedy "The Food Chain."

Silver writes about obsessions -- in this case, obsessions with food, family and love. It might be a bit of an exaggeration to say that his plays have become an obsession at AXIS Theatre. But "The Food Chain" -- AXIS' third Silver play in four years -- once again demonstrates director Brian Klaas' knack for capturing Silver's offbeat style.

This is no simple achievement. Silver's plays jolt rapidly from hilarity to hysteria. Absolutely everything is a matter of life and death. As Otto, the overweight character quoted above, Patrick Martyn (swaddled in a fat suit) is just as likely to go bonkers over a raisin bagel as he is over an unrequited romance.

Structured as three inter-related sketches, the play begins in the apartment of an independently wealthy poet named Amanda (Gina S. Braden), who telephones a suicide crisis center distraught because her husband of three weeks has been missing for the last two. Braden does a crackerjack job swiftly changing tones in a series of lengthy monologues as Amanda relates her misadventures over the past fortnight to Bethany Brown, as the brash, nosy suicide counselor.

Amanda's husband, a film director named Ford (Dennis J. Scott), turns out to be a near nonentity who speaks only in monosyllables, when he speaks at all. His taciturn nature, however, is the exception in this play, whose other characters are so self-absorbed, they can't stop talking about themselves. In a way, it's not surprising that more than one of them is obsessed with Ford, a man so devoid of personality, he offers no threat to the overweening egos of his lovers.

The second scene takes place in the apartment of a male model named Serge (Sean Rivers), who receives an expected visit from Otto, a nightclub comic who has just been fired. Serge and Otto had a brief fling years ago, but Otto is convinced that Serge is the love of his life. Determined to hang onto Serge, at one point Martyn's desperate Otto attaches himself to Serge's leg like a clinging puppy, refusing to let go even when Serge drags him across the room.

The third scene brings all the characters together, thanks to various coincidences. If putting the evening's loonies in the same room doesn't heighten the humor as much as you'd expect, well, that's because one of them is carrying a loaded gun. Comedy and tragedy are very closely allied in Silver's world.

Set designer Joel Shepherd has literally framed the stage and its three walls with giant gold picture frames. The two side frames open out, allowing the actors to be neatly framed while delivering their longer speeches. The device is presumably intended to remind us that most of the characters are artists of some sort. This interpretation, however, is a bit of a stretch, and the frames, clever though they may be, are ultimately more showy than effective.

The same cannot be said for Klaas' able cast members, who approach Silver's ferociously funny material with the high level of intensity it requires. I don't know if there's such a thing as a healthy obsession, but AXIS' fixation with Nicky Silver is, at the very least, a comically cathartic one.

Show times at AXIS, 3600 Clipper Mill Road, are 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays, through Dec. 12. Tickets are $12 and $14. Call 410-243-5237.

What are the odds?

Before the Flying Karamazov Brothers arrived at Center Stage Nov. 5, founding member Howard Jay Patterson told The Sun that approximately 70 percent of the time he succeeds in juggling the objects supplied by the audience in the challenge known as "The Gamble." Center Stage's audiences, however, proved more challenging than most.

Patterson was stumped in two out of the troupe's three performances of "Sharps, Flats and Accidentals," which were presented as part of the theater's Off Center Festival. His only successful attempt came at the Saturday matinee, when he juggled a computer keyboard (with cord), a JC Penney catalog (with the pages folded inward) and an egg carton (containing two raw eggs).

Among the objects that defeated him -- or were rejected by audience vote -- during the three performances were: a water balloon, a brass magazine rack, red Jell-O, a 33 rpm record, a Slinky, a cuckoo clock, iced cupcakes, a toy Snoopy dog and a prosthetic leg.

Shows and more shows

Ford's Theatre in Washington has added three shows to its season. The internationally acclaimed mime Marcel Marceau will make his first appearance in Washington in two decades Jan. 25-Feb. 13. Two days later, James Whitmore returns in "Will Rogers' U.S.A.," the one-man show he created at Ford's in 1970. Whitmore says this engagement will be his last as the cowboy philosopher.

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