KPBS AIRDATE: February 2, 1994 >
Can you get a little closer to the radio? I have a theater secret to share with you. Actually, you might even want to write this down. Get a pen and paper. Ready? Okay, here goes. Big Kitchen. That’s it. San Diego’s best-kept theatrical secret. Don’t say I never told you.
The Big Kitchen is really a tiny restaurant, nestled into Grape Street in Golden Hill. It’s a kind of local landmark, best known for the fact that Whoopi Goldberg once worked there, as a dishwasher, I think. Anyway, for the last five years, every once in a while, Project Theater produces some very special work there. There’s no regular schedule. The events only occur about once a year. And you’ll only learn about it by word of mouth. Mine, in this case.
For the next two weekends only, Project Theater is doing it again, bringing back the real magic of theater: intimate, unadorned, thought-provoking. Just you and the actors, up really close, with the focus on the text, not on histrionics and pyrotechnics. Just pure, clean, quality acting. All this and dessert, too. The evening is called “Three Pieces ‘n’ Pie,” and for fifteen bucks, 20 lucky people get treated to two very short playlets followed by pie and coffee and a final, satisfying forty minute one-act. It’s a delicious evening all around. But those in the know have come to expect that at the Big Kitchen.
These three plays deal with communication, relationships and memory. Each has a disturbing undertone. “I’m Herbert,” by Robert Anderson, has the lightest touch, as an older couple, third marriage for each, tries to reminisce, but keeps mixing up the wrong memory with the wrong marriage partner. In “Night,” by Harold Pinter, there is less forgiveness and amiability, and a sort of seething, subliminal resentment, as a middle-aged husband and wife share their very disparate recollections of their first night together just before going to bed.
You need the pie for a bit of sustenance before tackling Pinter’s “A Kind of Alaska.” This sparse, three-character piece is based on “Awakenings” by Oliver Sacks, the story of the neurologist’s attempts to revive patients who had been long-term victims of what’s commonly called ‘sleeping sickness.’ In Pinter’s play, the doctor has just injected Deborah, who becomes truly conscious for the first time in 29 years, confronting her sister.. and her demons. It’s a chilling view into the mind, beautifully, poetically written. This is the high point of the evening for Dana Case, who is positively other-worldly as Deborah, with an almost cadaverous pallor and ghostly, fluttering hands. Marilyn Bennett gives a touching, convincing performance as the sister. But it is Eric Grishkat’s evening overall. As director and actor, he displays considerable versatility and credibility. Bursting out of his flowered shirt as the doddering older man with a faint trace of Irish accent. Sensual but somehow cutting as the middle-aged husband. Concerned, surprised and somewhat helpless as the doctor. Don’t pass up this luscious evening of theater. Savory slices of life… and of pie.
And for the more conventional type of theater magic, with wonderful sound, delightful design and a lifesize dreadlocked dog that steals the show, take the whole family to “Mr. A’s Amazing Maze Plays” at the Old Globe. It’s a kids’ show not just for kids, an interactive mystery, a fun, rollicking romp, with some of the Globe’s best and most beloved actors, and warm, light-hearted direction by the Globe’s legend, Craig Noel. I loved everyone’s performance, but I was really smitten by Sean Sullivan as that adorable, walking mop, Neville, the damnedest dog you’d ever want as a playpal. Written by the prolific and inventive Alan Ayckbourn, the play’s experiment in interactive theater didn’t really work for me, but the production overall is unfettered and great fun.
I’m Pat Launer, for KPBS radio.
©1994 Patté Productions Inc.