In the Wendy MacLeod comedy “Slow Food,” a couple celebrating their anniversary simply cannot get their waiter to bring their food. Their frustration leads to lots of laughs — and much more.
“When you’re really, really exhausted, or you’re really, really hungry, you do actually reveal a lot about yourself. It brings out your base self,” explains Jackson Gay, who directs the Dorset Theatre Festival production.
“The waiter, by the sheer fact that he’s a stranger, inadvertently causes them to see things about themselves — because he sees things that are so completely obvious,” she said between rehearsals.
“And they do the same thing for the waiter.”
The Dorset production of “Slow Food,” Aug. 22-31 at the Dorset Playhouse, reunites two members of the cast from the NBC sitcom “Frasier.”
Peri Gilpin, who was Roz Doyle, the producer of Frasier’s radio show, is the wife, Irene, and Dan Butler, Bob “Bulldog” Briscoe, the vexing host of the “Gonzo Sports Show,” is her husband, Peter. Greg Stuhr (Broadway’s “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee”) plays Stephen, the waiter.
“Finding a truly funny comedy is rare these days,” says Dina Janis, Dorset’s artistic director. “Wendy’s play reminds me of Carol Burnett or Lucille Ball — it’s so much fun, but also a really touching story that we can all relate to.”
“Slow Food” centers on Irene and Peter, who just want to have a nice dinner out on their big anniversary in Palm Springs. But their highly neurotic waiter Stephen keeps finding reasons not to bring them their food. Everything goes horribly, ridiculously wrong, as the situation has them examining everything from their menu choices to their future together.
“When I first read it, I thought, OK, this is just a funny, charming entertainment for an audience. But after only a week of rehearsal, our conversations were much deeper,” said Gay, who directed 2018’s Pipeline presentation of “Invictus Mingus” by Frank Harts at Dorset.
“It’s about slow food: They’re hungry, they’re starving for their food, but they’re starving for so much more,” she said. “The play has deepened for us because we’ve started focusing on the existential questions of loneliness and just being hungry for something to fill that loneliness up inside of you.”
You can marry somebody, go to sleep and wake up, and 20 years has passed. Empty nest syndrome only adds to the confusion.
“And you’re kind of looking at that person and thinking basically ‘Who are you?’” Gay said. “All of a sudden, you’re by yourselves and realizing how you’ve lost each other.”
In explaining her directing process, Gay invokes musical terms (that have been co-opted by theater).
“It’s very important to make sure that we all follow the beats of the evening,” she said. “So we’re looking at the score, dividing it up movement to movement, beat to beat and talking about what this section is about and how do we get there, and what is (the) next beat.
“Another thing we’re figuring out is a little bit like unpeeling an onion — you have to keep pulling it off so you can get down to the real core,” she said.
Gay finds that this comedy echoes any kind of fight between people who love each other.
“A lot of times you’re fighting about something that’s really not about that, it’s about something else,” she said.
Making that work on stage depends upon the connection between the three actors.
“I feel that a lot of my work was certainly helped by having three just excellent actors,” Gay said. “You have to have three actors who are truthful, and also very skilled technically at comedy. With Dan, Peri and Greg, we really lucked out.”
Gay and the cast have found themselves in the show, making it difficult to keep focused.
“So much of this is about human relationships, therefore half of the rehearsal is stories that people take turns telling about their own personal fight they had with their husband, wife or boyfriend,” Gay said. “They’re hilarious, ridiculous stories — but in the end, add to the depth of our play.”
In the end, Gay hopes that every single person who watches sees themselves in one of these characters.
“It’s just a reaffirming of this universal human thing of loneliness and our need to be truly seen, truly respected, loved and cherished by another human being.”