Surreal ‘The Feast’ is Mirthfully Macabre

All meat in the world has mysteriously rotted forcing the populace into compulsory vegetarianism.  A dinner party awaits a delayed guest and the other participants are getting. . .hungry!!  This is the framing device for The Feast by Celine Song and currently playing at the Shelterbelt Theatre.

Note that I use the term framing device as opposed to plot because the story of this play is rather nebulous.  Ms Song’s script starts out incredibly strong as it focuses on the famished partygoers and their dysfunctional relationships appear to be the thrust of the tale.  Towards the play’s climax, the story begins to veer into the surreal before taking a left turn into the nonsensical.  A telling monologue attempts to tie up the peculiarities of the story, but the lack of centrality somewhat weakens the show.  With that being said, the play’s surefire direction and steady acting greatly neutralize a good deal of the story’s shortcomings.

Noah Diaz is truly becoming a force to be reckoned with on the directing scene.  His staging is incredibly sharp with a particularly nice touch of the actors already being on stage during the pre-show playing party games.  This added a vital bit of realism to the production and was able to pull the audience into its world before the dialogue began.  Diaz also has a well coached cast who gave sterling performances and picked up cues at the drop of a hat.

Diaz also played the role of Rhett, a friend of the party’s hostess and her husband.  Diaz is blessed with that mysterious x factor that makes for great acting.  Always perfectly believable, Diaz’s Rhett is a sickly, smarmy prig.  Diaz plays the role with a charming insincerity as he constantly inquires about how much longer the hostess’ husband will be simply because he wants to eat or politely fighting with his wife before they “make-up”.  Rhett’s wife claims Rhett always wants what he can’t have and one of the play’s more surreal scenes reveals the reason Rhett behaves this way. This grants Diaz the opportunity to play a brilliantly tragic moment which engenders great sympathy for Rhett.  Diaz is a little young for the role, but had to step into the part when the original actor needed to withdraw very late in the rehearsal process.

Mary Kelly is darling as Wendy, the hostess.  As the stereotypical 1950s housewife, Ms Kelly’s Wendy is quite solicitous in looking after the wants of her guests and constantly checking in with her husband to find out when he will arrive so she can serve dinner.  However, Ms Kelly gets to turn the stereotype on its head during her dark asides when she becomes a demented Betty Crocker.  She talks about her fantasies of eating people due to her desire for some meat, passionately describing how she would prepare the entrée.  Ms Kelly also gives her Wendy a bit of a lascivious nature as she secretly pines for her husband’s stepbrother.

Leanne Hill Carlson strikes all the right notes with her depiction of Sam, Rhett’s wife.  Sam is a selfish, petty woman who lives life below the bellybutton because she’ll sleep with and kiss anything with a pulse that isn’t her husband.  This type of role could be a real scene chewer, but Ms Hill Carlson always remains grounded in a very effective performance.  The fact that Sam’s selfish nature is a façade that covers a bitter truth permits Ms Hill Carlson to add some wonderful and crucial dramatic heft to the character.

Beau Fisher soars in his Omaha theatre debut as Xander, a scientist and the stepbrother of Wendy’s husband.  Fisher impresses as the hyper-intellectual Xander who is more content experimenting on animals than he is engaging with other people.  I was especially impressed with the subtlety of Fisher’s performance as he manages to hint at a lusting towards Sam as well as having a keen grasp of what’s going on around him despite his isolationist tendencies.  Fisher’s descent into madness towards the play’s finale is one of the show’s funniest moments.

Brennan Thomas gives a nicely understated performance in the uncredited role of Francis, Wendy’s husband.  In spite of his limited stage time, Thomas is able to bring some beautiful nuance to Francis who is tasked with explaining the meaning, or non-meaning, behind the play’s plot.

The technical aspects of this show were some of the strongest I have seen this season.  From the clever and surprisingly complex cardboard set of Sharon Diaz, to the nearly living lights designed by Joshua Mullady, to the wonderfully appropriate mood music of Hannah Meyer, and the always apropos sounds of Shannon Smay, this show will be a treat for your eyes and ears.

Despite the oddities of the script, Ms Song does accomplish a very difficult task which is to make a dark comedy truly funny.  Most dark comedies rely on the story being funny due to acts of cruelty, but this show uses genuine humor and leaves the darkness to bolster the show’s more serious moments.  While the plot may be “love it or hate it”, the show’s directing, acting, and technical aspects will be certain to hold the audience’s interest.

The Feast plays at the Shelterbelt through May 8.  Performances are Thurs-Sat at 8pm and Sundays at 6pm.  The final Sunday performance will be at 2pm.  Tickets cost $15 for adults and $12 for students, seniors (65+) and T.A.G. members.  Sunday tickets are $12.  For reservations contact the Shelterbelt at 402-341-2757, or by e-mail at boxoffice@shelterbelt.org, or their website at www.shelterbelt.org.  The Shelterbelt is located at 3225 California St in Omaha, NE.  Due to some sensitive subject matter, The Feast is recommended for mature audiences.

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