DORSET — Imagine you’re trying to celebrate your 20-something wedding anniversary at a nice Greek restaurant in Palm Springs, after a trying day getting there, and for some reason, you can’t get your food or even a drink. In fact, you have the waiter from Hell!
The riotously funny comedy “Slow Food” is closing Dorset Theatre Festival’s 2019 season, and Friday’s opening night performance delivered every delicious laugh. This is only the second production of this little gem by Wendy MacLeod, and there is every reason to believe that it will enjoy performances far and wide.
In this three-person 90-minute comedy, Irene and Peter find themselves at the only restaurant open on a Sunday evening. After traveling all day from New York City, they arrive in California to find they are stuck with a van instead of a rental car — Peter suggests people will think they’re Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mafiosi — and the hot tub doesn’t work. But mostly they’re hungry, very hungry.
They should have known they were in trouble when their waiter Stephen tells them that he has canceled their drink order because it was taken by Brian and this is his table. From there, it only gets worse.
Not only will Stephen not take their orders without exploring all other possibilities, he then keeps finding reasons that the food cannot be delivered. These discussions force an intimacy – unwanted by Irene and Peter – that has the couple reexamining their marriage and Stephen forcing the trials and tribulations of his life on them.
But this little play is more than laughs. While the extent to which Irene and Peter will go to get their food, and Stephen to not deliver it are, in fact, extremely funny, getting there is charmingly touching.
The Dorset production, directed by Jackson Gay, was a lesson in comic timing. The pace was fast, yet it breathed, and paused for those sentimental moments. (It did take a little time for the actors adjust to holding their next lines before the laughter ceased.)
Much of this was achieved by the intimacy of the actors’ performance. Greg Stuhr as the “sensitive” waiter Stephen was virtuoso comedy, not silly slapstick, rather exploiting his character’s every failing with pure joy.
Peri Gilpin’s Irene and Dan Butler’s Peter began as the straight “men” to Stuhr’s Stephen, but soon shared in the hijinks. Gilpin, although she might momentarily burst out of character for comic effect, mixed wry with sensitive, caring woman. Butler gave Peter that all-American man covering the boy inside effect. And they worked delightfully together.
Dorset’s physical production, as usual, was excellent. Antje Ellerman’s airy West Coast restaurant was effectively lit by Michael Giannitti, with attractive and appropriate costumes by Fabian Fidel Aguilar.
Dorset Theatre Festival’s “Slow Food” is reminiscent of the screwball film comedies of the 1930s an ‘40s — in short, a pure delight.