Dorset's 'Slow Food' whets appetite for laughter

Wendy MacLeod's new play leaves audience roaring

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DORSET — I laughed from start to finish. The folks around me laughed from start to finish. The ushers laughed from start to finish. Did I mention there was laughter from start to finish?

If there are any doubts about what Dorset Theatre Festival's closing production of this summer season is all about, please cast them aside.

In Wendy MacLeod's new play, "Slow Food," directed most capably by Jackson Gay, there is nothing but fun, sarcasm, irony, slapstick, and the clever writing which doesn't overthink, overbear, or pretend to be anything else but a farce of the highest order.

The storyline could have been one of any number, but in this case found married empty-nester couple, therapist Irene and management consultant Peter (played by "Frasier" co-stars Peri Gilpin and Dan Butler) off to celebrate a special anniversary in Palm Springs — where the only joint they could find open late was a Greek taverna.

There, waiter Stephen (Greg Stuhr) came to take their order, and suffice it to say in referring to the play's title, it took the full 90 minutes (with no intermission) to realize the appearance of the couple's food at their table. Stephen also has a clear prurient interest in Dan, which just adds to the fun without boxing in the genders.

In between those two curtains is a cornucopia of the absurd, where one zinger leads to another, until very quickly all three characters, as well as imaginary waiters and a humongous Greek chef, are dragged down into a rathole of — what else? — non-stop audience laughter. Gilpin and Butler, sitting calmly and casually (and sometimes not so much) were dynamite in terms of the chemistry they brought to the table (pun intended), and reminded us why they were such a fun pairing at their radio station on the hit sitcom "Frasier."

Both actors were absolutely convincing in their rendition of the back-and-forth disconnects between longtime married couples, and in many ways took a page from their former TV characters. This was brilliant casting by all involved (with a nod to Judy Bowman, CSA)!

Stuhr, though, was the star, and rightfully so. His Stephen is the type of role comics die for, played to certain stereotypes while smashing others. His delivery and comic timing were impeccable. His facial expressions and body language, as the one cast member who was standing and moving the entire play, were both sublime. Stuhr should take an extra bow with every performance because it is very, very well

deserved.

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Antje Ellermann's set was both surreal and practical, but mostly rich in bright colors with a convincingly pleasing depth perception for a desert-located Greek eatery.

Costumes by Fabian Fidel Aguilar were perfect for the character detail, making Stephen's royal blue stand out appropriately to his role.

Lights by the inimitable Michael Giannitti were flawlessly executed and understated but fun as needed, and sound by Sinan Refik Zafar resonated nicely. This romp was yet again excellently stage managed by Carolynn Richer, a standard we are coming to expect from her.

New and newer plays have been the word at Dorset the last several years, and this one didn't disappoint. When taking in "Slow Food," it's clear you will be drawn in by one joke after another: MacLeod's writing is slick and witty, and her actors deliver the good, for which both they are director Gay need to be lauded.

Thankfully and mercifully, Ms. MacLeod subtly left political correctness out of parts of the script, a welcome relief in comedy.

This isn't new humor or satire, though. It's a tried and true recipe which will have couples in the audience elbowing each other and giving knowing glances throughout. And there's nothing wrong with that at all, because you'll feel as if MacLeod and her players are giving you something fresh and effervescent, the sign of comedic mastery.

It's no coincidence, therefore, that in this time of national tension, Dorset has given us a number of hit comedies this summer, and rightfully so. There's enough seriousness around us every day, and certainly on stage it has its time and place.

But did I mention there was laughter from start to finish in "Slow Food?" I guess I did. And laugh you will, so snap up the last few tickets remaining, and go have a great time.

Telly Halkias is a member of the American Theatre Critics Assn. (ATCA). E-mail: tchalkias@aol.com, Twitter: @Telly Halkias


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