Review: "The Kitchen Plays" Serves Up Three Satisfying Courses

The Kitchen Plays

Passion Project

Written by Cassandra Paras

Directed by Byron Anthony

Ginger Bug

Written by Jake Brasch

Directed by Amber Calderon

For the Family

Written by Madison Harrison

Directed by Diane Davie

Presented by Eden Theater Company via Zoom

February 5-20, 2021

Larry Fleischman and Cassandra Paras. Image courtesy Emily Owens PR
Beginning last summer, Eden Theater Company's virtual short-play series The Room Plays has brought us into characters'--and actors'--bedrooms, bathrooms, and living rooms. The series now concludes, appropriately enough, in a place of creation with The Kitchen Plays, a final trio of short works that return to the first installment's focus on people negotiating their lives under the current conditions of the pandemic. Sharply drawn and crisply acted, The Kitchen Plays furnishes a strong finish to the series.

The strong start to this strong finish arrives in the form of Cassandra Paras's Passion Project. Larry (Larry Fleischman) and Cass (Cassandra Paras) meet in the smelly kitchen of the bar where Larry works in order to run lines for Cass's upcoming audition during his break. His break, however, keeps getting interrupted (both a realistic depiction of the difficulties of being an actor and a good metaphor for what's happened to the arts since last spring). As if that weren't enough, his cat is seriously ill. Passion Play delves into loneliness (the father-daughter scene for Cass's audition is itself about estrangement and feeling seen) but also into what to do with, as Cass succinctly puts it, "all the bullshit" (a great touch is how each interruption changes the energy and intensity of their read-through of the audition scene, productively channeling the frustration into the art). Fleischman and Paras are terrific, their engaging dynamic lending power to Larry's later, weary vision of loneliness and Cass's reaction to it.
Madeline Barr and Jake Brasch. Image courtesy Emily Owens PR
Ginger Bug, by Jake Brasch, gives us a pair of kitchens. These kitchens belong to Janine (Madeline Barr) and Perry (Jake Brasch), whose weekly Zoom meetings during the pandemic to share their cooking and eat "together" has become something like a private Food Network competition show, complete with theme song. It is obvious from the contrast in Janine's demeanor before and after this week's Zoom call connects that she is putting on her jokey, chipper faux-host persona out of a sense of obligation more than of fun. Is single, unemployed Perry's high-energy performativity also a deflection from how he is truly feeling? As Janine abandons both the culinary exchange and her peppy facade and tries to convince a resistant Perry to meet up in person, Ginger Bug, like Passion Project, cannily explores loneliness, here in the context of the different kinds of grief and of people's different ways of dealing with them, as well as their differing emotional needs and the ways that disjunctions between those needs may be exacerbated by the circumstances of our current isolation. The acknowledgment that our attempts to virtually strengthen, replace, or forge our interpersonal connections during the pandemic can sometimes result in merely creating new obligations or stressors will likely resonate with many in the audience; and Barr and Brasch embody these themes in complex, vulnerable performances.
Owen Alleyne and Danielle Kogan. Image courtesy Emily Owens PR
There is an important conflict around meeting up with others in For the Family as well, the final Kitchen Play, written by Madison Harrison. Here, Terry (Owen Alleyne) is struggling with what to cook for his parents, who are coming to visit him after an estrangement of several years. His roommate, Patricia (Danielle Kogan), who may not be the best at following COVID precautions, is leaving shortly to drink (or rather, continue drinking) outdoors with a friend. Through direct address to the audience and a Zoom call with someone else whom he hasn't spoken to lately, we learn more about why this meal has become a flashpoint for Terry, and Patricia's late return to the apartment does not improve the situation but may force some of its underlying truths out into the open. Ending the show with another set of strong performances, Alleyne and Kogan bring an absorbing authenticity to these characters and their conflicts. 

The echoes that emerge among the three short works that make up The Kitchen Plays only enrich the experience as together they perceptively and compellingly demonstrate how our everyday struggles have been metamorphosed and amplified over the last year. Doubtless many audience members, even if they are not struggling actors or amateur chefs, will find much to relate to onscreen (how comfortable or not that identification is will depend on the individual viewer). If The Kitchen Plays were baked goods, Paul Hollywood would be giving out handshakes.

-John R. Ziegler and Leah Richards


Popular posts from this blog

Review: The Immersive "American Blues: 5 Short Plays by Tennessee Williams" Takes Audiences on a Marvelously Crafted Journey

Review: "How To Eat an Orange" Cuts into the Life of an Argentine Artist and Activist

Review: From Child Pose to Stand(ing) Up: "Yoga with Jillian" and "Penguin in Your Ear" at the Women in Theatre Festival