Atlanta Theater Weekly

Horizon Theatre Opens '96 Season With 'The Food Chain'

By Don Wagner

There is one popular playwright who is quite visible in Atlanta and New York this season, and his name is Nicky Silver, a man with a knack for pointing out the ridiculousness and absurdities in life. In The Food Chain, Silver ventures into that nether world of '90s attitude, the obsession with physical beauty.

There isn't one of us; whether we admit it or not who at some point in their lives has not had an all-consuming (pardon the pun) desire for another person. The heart starts racing, the palms grow sweaty, and we lose our ability to behave like sane human beings. We do things that should earn us the Presidential Suite in the loony bin. Is it love, lust or just plain madness? Actually it's a little of each, but the madness part only becomes a problem if you're like Alex, the psycho in Fatal Attraction. Most of the time it's not that serious and the only ones to get hurt are ourselves, Funny stuff, huh? Damn right.

In The Food Chain, Nicky Silver takes this basic premise , puts a comedic spin to it, and the result is an uproarious farce that makes us cringe to remember the times we've gone over the top to win or keep a lover. But Silver is not content to merely show us our follies and foibles; he hits us over the head with them. The central figure in Silver's play is Otto, a young man who could really benefit from extensive hours on Dr. Ruth's couch. Unfortunately he might eat both the couch and le petite shrink.

Otto is gay and in love with Serge. However, Serge is in love with two others, Ford and himself. The brief affair Otto and Serge shared has been over for some time, but Otto blew the significance of the relationship (and himself) way out of proportion. In his need to get Serge back, Otto becomes Serge's worst nightmare, turning up at the most opportune times.

Next we have Amanda, a newly wed who met and married a man in less time than it takes a carton of milk to expire. However there is a problem. Amanda's hubby has flown the coop, and she knows not where he is. Desperate, Amanda phones a crisis hot line, but is unlucky enough to be connected with Bea, a woman who, given her line of work, isn't exactly brimming over with compassion. Bea tells Amanda her tale of woe to make Amanda see that, in comparison, her life is a day at the beach. Through a twisted series of events, Otto and Amanda meet and realize they share a past as well as a tendency to deal with their respective loves in self-destructive ways. While Amanda's into starvation, Otto eats his body weight in junk food.

Since The Food Chain is a farce, all of the characters must meet, and they do. The result isn't pretty but it is a hilarious encounter which reveals many secrets the playwright has deftly managed to keep hidden.

Silver's play is laugh-out-loud funny, and the Horizon production, directed by Lawrence Keller, doesn't miss a trick. There are moments in the play that call for nothing more than playing the scene. To some directors, who feel it's necessary to dig deeply into the script to unlock the truth even if it's all surface, this would be committing a sacrilege. Keller on the other hand has enough confidence in the material, his cast and himself that he's not afraid to play a moment strictly for it's comic value. How very refreshing.

Kelly was faced with another daunting problem. The staging. For a play like The Food Chain to work it must move at lightning speed. A pause in the wrong place could prove fatal to the production. Happily, Keller keeps the action at a steady pace, and since it never lags, all the comedic elements work as they were meant to.

So good as Lawrence Keller's direction is, without his talented cast, well, he'd have an empty stage. But I digress. Amanda is played by Susie Grimley. Susie shows us all of Amanda's weaknesses, but also her strengths. Amanda has more than her share of stuff to deal with, and Susie Grimley turns in a performance fraught with humor, pathos, irony, and toward the end, just a touch of venom. Nita Hardy is Bea, the crisis center worker and yente. Bea is a hilarious character (but oy, such a kvetcher!) and Nita plays her to the hilt. Quint Von Canon is Serge, the stud who's just too sexy for his shirt (his shorts, shoes, hat, or whatever). Serge is also a legend in his own mind, and he bemoans his fate of constantly having to fend off would-be suitors. Yes, Serge gives new meaning to the word "shallow" but when he finally falls in love and is rejected, he's devastated since it's something he's never experienced. Quint has a ball playing Serge's pompous side, but he also shows us he's as frail and insecure as anyone else. Barry Stewart Mann does a great job in the smaller role of Amanda's hubby, Ford. However, there's more than meets the eye. A lot more, and Barry seems to be always keeping a secret. Know what? He is.

Glenn Rainey tackles the complicated role of Otto, and is at the same time screamingly funny and pitiful. Since Otto is so gross, Glenn gets to act out those over-the-top emotions we've all felt but would never dream of doing - to be gross for the sake of being gross. Where most actors want to look their best on stage, Glenn does just the opposite, and he thus turns in a fine performance.

If you aren't afraid to come face-to-face with your own idiosyncrasies and oddities, The Food Chain is for you. But be warned. Nicky Silver pokes at us relentlessly, and for some reason we keep wanting more.