This Food's Tasty

Some plays don't just offer food for thought; they serve up fresh ideas, then eat them raw. One such carnivore is Nicky Silver's The Food Chain, now on display in a tasty production at the Mosaic Theatre in Plantation. Silver's scabrous wit slices and dices a number of human foibles, chiefly including obsessive love and obsessive eating. But while his carving is both funny and sharp and the presentation by the Mosaic crew is delicious, the result may leave you hungry for more dramatic substance.

The tart-tongued Silver, whose 1993 hit, Pterodactyls, first brought him critical acclaim, has a lock on the obsessions of yuppiedom, especially the part of that tribe that dwells in Manhattan. In one apartment in upscale Chelsea, Amanda, a high-strung newlywed, calls a crisis hotline in desperation. Her problem: Her screenwriter husband of three weeks, Ford, has disappeared. The hotline volunteer, a chatterbox yenta named Bea, listens to Amanda's long tale of woe while leafing through a romance novel. Bea, who is more nosy than helpful, wants to hear the sexy details, and Amanda complies but soon careens into stratospheric hysteria, raging against the corporate male dominance of perceptions of feminine beauty, among other things. But while this bizarre conversation clatters along, Ford creeps quietly, sheepishly, back into the flat. Amanda's thrilled he's back but puzzled as to why he left. She remains puzzled; there's not a word from Ford.

Meanwhile, in another apartment, a self-obsessed male model, Serge, primps and pumps iron in anticipation of the arrival of a lover. Just as he scatters condoms and rose petals across his faux-leopard bedspread, Serge is surprised by the intrusion of Otto, a grossly overweight compulsive eater who wants back into Serge's life. The pair had a fling four years before. Although Serge forgot about it and quickly moved on to other partners, Otto didn't. Otto is a nightmare of an ex, insisting upon staying despite Serge's increasingly desperate attempts to throw him out. Otto proclaims his undying love for Serge in one breath and his self-loathing in the next, all the while swearing, sweating, sobbing, and compulsively gobbling junk food from three huge grocery bags. These two wacky storylines converge later, when it is revealed that Ford is both Serge's and Amanda's object of adoration. When this character collision happens, the play becomes a kind of postmodern Midsummer Night's Dream, as a scramble of hapless lovers makes for some hilarious desperation.

Originally an off-Broadway hit in 1995, The Food Chain is certainly a play of its premillennium times, when New Yorkers had the luxury of fomenting mini-pseudocrises rather than real, big ones that fall from the sky. But while New York has moved on to deeper, darker concerns, the play's take on modern obsession remains amusing. The cast is in fine comedic form; those with the best-written roles fare best. Anthony Sacco is hilarious in an over-the-top-wild-man turn as Otto while Elayne Wilks as Bea turns on the borscht-belt charm. Amanda Rockwell as Amanda and Brandon Morris as Serge are solid in less-flashy roles, while Andres Alexis turns in a droll performance with hardly a word spoken; his characterization of Ford is all in his body language. David Whitlock's zany set design is a characterization in itself, a world where everyday apartment shapes and spaces are warped into acute angles of magenta and electric blue.

Director Christian Rockwell demonstrates a deft touch with Silver's lunatic urban fringe, though the production doesn't nail some of Silver's satiric nuances, which are aimed at a very local NYC crowd. Everything from Amanda's address to her college alma mater are meant as laugh lines, but the cast doesn't seem to exploit these. Some of these minor miscues might be written off to the vagaries of performance, but you occasionally get the feeling that the Mosaic crew didn't sweat some of the details. Otto, for instance, spends the play fishing through shopping bags from Publix, a Florida supermarket chain, rather than sacks from a New York market like D'Agostino or A&P.

And Rockwell certainly courts controversy by dressing Sacco in a grotesque fat suit. It's a bold and funny idea but might be deemed offensive to many and tips the play into broad farce. Questionable taste aside, the problem with this extreme comedic ploy is that the play lacks a strong comedic finish, as Silver instead opts for one of drama's cheapest and most trite devices -- a loaded gun. It's like bad sex after great foreplay: Food Chain rollicks along toward what you expect to be a big finish, but the bang you get is neither big nor satisfying. But you can't fault Mosaic for script lapses -- overall, this Food Chain is a hot, spicy taste treat.

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Ronald Mangravite