By Mark Binelli
The great thing about Nicky Silver is that he consistently goes too far. In "Pterodactyls", produces last season by Barking Dog Theatre, the New York playwright dealt with AIDS and extinction, but also a guy in a French maid's outfit. The result was relentlessly grim, and, well, hilarious
"The Food Chain" is just hilarious. But Silver's take on loneliness, obsessions, and superficial beauty - now at the Horizon Theatre - is no less over the top. And it's pushed to even wilder extremes by director Lawrence Keller and expert comic actors Susie Grimley (Horizon's "The Good Times Are Killing Me") and Glenn Rainey (Theatre in the Square's "Funny Money"), whose performances are as inventive and excessive as the material itself.
The play opens on the frantic, needy Amanda (Grimley), a poet whose husband of three weeks has been AWOL for the past two. When she calls a crisis hotline, the counselor (Nita Hardy) emerges from the apartment's wall, desk and all. Murphy-bed style. Amanda proceeds to unload an epic rant that covers the tyranny of purses, waiters who snidely ask "are you alone?" and her last boyfriend, the performance artist, who committed suicide during his final show. ("It was very well reviewed!" she insists)
The next scene shifts to Serge (Quint Von Canon), a buff model in tight boxers who receives a late-night visitor from an unwelcome gentleman caller, the obnoxious, neurotic, scale-tipping Otto (Rainey). Though the two dated only briefly, Otto remains near-fatally attracted, and he maniacally, pathetically begs to be taken back - in between phone calls from his castrating mother (who shows photos of Serge when asked if she has a son) and complaints about the room temperature. Picture an enlarged pre-"Sweatin' to the Oldies" Richard Simmons, and you've got Otto.
On a physical level alone, Rainey's performance is an impressive one. While hauling around a bulky "fat:" costume, he punctuates a monologue as hysterically high-beam as Grimley's with violent attacks on a grocery bag filled with junk food. By the end of the scene, he's devoured a row of doughnuts off a pretzel rodlike corn on the cob, licked the cream fillings out of a half-dozen Oreos (hurling the chocolate cookie portions over his shoulders like oyster shells) and, for his coup de grace, downed an entire bottle of Yoo-Hoo in a single massive gulp. (the night I saw the play, the audience cheered.)
By the end of the play, everything comes together in strange and amusing ways. Silver also gives some lip service to his themes but does "The Food Chain" really have much to say about the Beauty Myth and how most of us are starved for attention? Uh, sure. And "The Odd Couple" made important statements about neat freaks and slobs. No, the play works best, pure and simple, as binge comedy: You'll laugh until you're sick.