Off-Broadway Review: STAFF MEAL (Playwright’s Horizon)

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by Paola Bellu on May 3, 2024

in Theater-New York


Staff Meal at Playwrights Horizons is a light, surreal play with many points and no resolutions, intentionally unclear, written by Abe Koogler and directed by Morgan Green. Mina (Susannah Flood) and Ben (Greg Keller) are customers of the same coffee shop. They exchange head nods, a ‘hi’ or at most an awkward sentence or two, day after day, until they decide to go out for a walk and a bite to eat. Mina doesn’t particularly like to eat out, saying “It’s often hard to hear, and the food is often overpriced, and I often feel disappointed, and a big part of me honestly wishes we were just at someone’s house being hosted warmly by someone,” so they pick a restaurant known for its delicious food and its warm atmosphere.

Susannah Flood and Greg Keller
Hampton Fluker

Mina’s sentence feels like the core of this piece; people’s loneliness, living afar, the common wish by city dwellers of owning some kind of refuge in the country where all loved ones can gather, where hosting becomes an art. This particular restaurant they chose offers refuge to the guests and, most important, its staff. Mina and Ben’s stories fade out and we concentrate on the workers.

Jess Barbagallo and Carmen M. Herlihy
Erin Markey (Jess Barbagallo and Carmen M. Herlihy in background)

The waiters Jess Barbagallo and Carmen M. Herlihy are helping Hampton Fluker on his first day on the job, a way to let us know about the restaurant past and customs; there is a side story about the mysterious owner, a hint at modern time’s infatuation with chefs; Erin Markey is amusing as the vagrant (the only real sign of a depressing outside world) and appropriately disturbing as Chef Christina. All the actors do justice to their roles; sets by Jian Jung, costumes by Kaye Voyce, sound by Tei Blow, and lighting by Masha Tsimring are also playful and smoothly serve both script and direction.

Stephanie Berry
Erin Markey

The problem lies with the script; shifting walls, shifting identities, shifting subjects, Koogler’s intentions go from weird to absurd to keep the audience always guessing; it seems to be about connections but it is truly disconnected. Neither the quality of the food or the importance of the restaurant or the lives of the characters or the “scary” outside world are ever truly felt by the audience because the descriptions are just that, descriptions. One intervention by a terrific Stephanie Berry that I cannot describe because it will spoil the viewing ends up being the most memorable part of the show. In the end, a mixed bag for lovers of experimental theatre.

Erin Markey

photos by Chelcie Parry

Staff Meal
Playwrights Horizons Peter Jay Sharp Theater, 416 West 42nd Street
ends on May 19, 2024 EXTENDED to May 24, 2024
run time: 1 hours, 40 minutes with no intermission
for tickets visit Playwrights Horizons

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