A candidate for a high-level fund-raising position in a major big city art museum is interviewed by various museum higher-ups in Avery Crozier’s Eat The Runt, now getting its Los Angeles Premiere at Theatre Of NOTE.

If the above mini-synopsis seems hardly the stuff of great drama, let alone the laugh-out-loud comedy that Eat The Runt is, then wait till you hear the gimmick that makes it a truly unparalleled theatrical experience.

Each of Eat The Runt’s cast of eight multiracial, multi-aged actors (five male and three female) have learned all of the play’s roles and not a single one knows who will play which character until just following the preshow announcements, when the audience assigns the parts (to the “Theme From Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?”).

Interviewee Merritt could be male or female, black or white, younger or older, and so could grant writer Chris, human resources coordinator Jean, director of development Royce, curator of modern art Hollis, trustee Sidney, and museum director Pinky.

The endless possibilities (press materials claim that there are potentially 40,320 casting combinations) start to dawn on the audience from one of Eat The Runt’s earliest scenes, which has Royce massaging Merritt’s crotch with his or her foot, the effects (and implications) of this scene contingent on whether it takes place between two men, two women, a man massaging a woman’s crotch, or a woman massaging a man’s. Get the picture?

The audience’s reaction to one character’s rant against affirmative action will vary according to whether the speaker is black or white, and the same is true with a character who talks about his/her African American heritage and another who describes his/her firsthand experience with prejudice. “Gosh I like your hair!” will evoke entirely different audience responses depending on whether it’s said to a woman with a shoulder-length do or a man with a shaved head. The play’s cohabitating couple could be straight, gay, or lesbian. A romantic kiss on the lips could be between a man and a woman, two men, or two women. A physical altercation between two characters could be two men slugging it out, a man and a woman coming to blows, or (as was the case last night) a Dynasty-style catfight.

And just exactly who is this Merritt, who begins a job interview with the offhand remark “My anus hurts,” just the start of a litany of embarrassing details and hardly the way to snag an important job in an important museum? Is he/she from Oklahoma with a Midwest drawl or, as he/she later claims, from New Orleans without a trace of an accent? Does he/she suffer from multiple personality disorder? Is he/she deliberately trying to sabotage his/her job interview, and if so why? That playwright Crozier finds an entirely satisfying way to answer each and every one of these questions in a doozy of an eleventh hour surprise is testimony to one very ingenious writer.

Here’s how the roles were assigned last night. Krista Conti, a tall, slender woman with a mane of curly brown hair and slinky red dress was Merritt. Joshua Wolf Coleman played Chris as a friendly, cooperative African American male. Jean was portrayed by a deliciously scowly, nasal Justin Okin. Royce was played by Lauren Leatherer, making Royce the kind of boss whom employees might well refer to as a “bitch” (whereas a male actor in the role would come across merely “authoritative.”) Joel Scher’s Hollis seemed flamboyantly gay—in the character’s own words “over the top, and it’s not just the coffee!” Sydney was a fussy, proper gent in the person of David LM McIntyre. Darrett Sanders turned Pinky into a “silver fox” of a museum director. Finally, there was Dawn Greenidge as… Well, I won’t spoil the end-of-Act One surprise.

Eat The Runt’s clever script gets laughs regardless of who’s playing whom, the effect of the gender-bending serving merely to heighten the hilarity. Hearing a character propose letting hemophiliacs bleed to death and making cigarettes more carcinogenic is outrageously funny regardless of who says it, as is another character’s rant that TV’s animated Underdog is “a recruitment cartoon for Hitler Youth.”

Crozier (whose bio refers to him/her as “he” one moment and “she” the next and whose name turns out to be the pseudonym of an award-winning Los Angeles playwright with a penchant for the unusual) has written dialog with hardly a single “he” or “she,” no small feat. In fact, One of Eat The Runt’s biggest laughs is the (delayed) reaction to one character’s comment, “Oh, good for her,” and another’s reaction to it. (“Her?”)

The mind boggles at the challenges Eat The Run poses to its stellar L.A. cast and its crackerjack director Tom Beyer, but all nine meet them with flying colors. Part of the fun of being an audience member is imagining how each actor might play each role. Would Coleman, so affable as Chris, be as grumpy a Jean as Okin is? Would Scher bring the same fabulousness to Merritt as he does to Hollis? How would the very dignified McIntyre look writhing on the floor and speaking in tongues?

In fact, it’s hard to imagine anyone not wanting to see Eat The Runt a second time, if not a third and fourth, just for the experience of seeing the same eight actors playing different roles opposite different scene partners each time. Add to this the fact that understudies Lisa Clifton and Cat Davis are both female and could easily be standing in for male actors, thereby considerably altering the male/female ratio, and you have a production that could become positively addictive.

Terence McFadden’s angular set design works even better here than it does in the concurrently running Shake, the addition or flipping over of a painting here or there signaling which office or other part of the museum we’re in. Beyer has his actors circling through endless invisible corridors as they move from room to room, backed by the quirky scene change music of Ryan Brodkin’s excellent sound design. Matt Richter’s lighting, Kimberly Freed’s costumes, and Okin’s props all merit a thumbs up. Eat The Runt is stage managed by Stacy Benjamin and produced for NOTE by Julia Prud-homme and John Money.

As to whether this reviewer will be back for more runt eating, the answer is yes indeed. Stay tuned for an update* of next Tuesday’s performance. I’ve already got a few ideas about how I’d cast Eat The Runt II for maximum variety. Stay tuned for a review update of this intriguing theatrical mix-and-match treat. And reserve your seats soon. Word-of-mouth is going to make Eat The Runt a sell-out hit.

Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga, Hollywood.

–Steven Stanley
August 17, 2010


Last night’s return visit to Eat The Runt proved every bit as entertaining as the first, if not more so. This reviewer got to pick the actor playing Merritt, and he chose Joel Scher, so delightful as the flamboyant Hollis the week before, to replace Krista Conti, a bit like asking Sean Hayes to take over Debra Messing’s role on Will & Grace. Scher succeed with flying (and occasionally flaming) colors, ending Act 1 in divalicious Norma Desmond fashion. Conti (think Messing again) assumed Joshua Wolf Coleman’s role, Chris, to snappy effect, and Coleman took the night off. Jean, who’d been a scowly, nasal Justin Okin, turned into Dominique Devereaux (remember Diahann Carroll’s role on Dynasty?) when played by a delectably snooty Dawn Greenidge. As my previous review predicted, last week’s bitch of a female boss Royce (Lauren Leatherer) seemed to come across more simply as a strong man doing his job well when played by Okin. (An interesting discussion-starter for a Gender Studies class.) Scher’s Hollis of the week before turned considerably more butch as played by Leatherer, though perhaps every bit as same-sex oriented. Pinky went from Blake Carrington (again the Dynasty metaphor) as played by Darrett Sanders (taking the night off last night) to Krystal Carrington crossed with Donna Reed as played by sunny blonde understudy Lisa Clifton. Understudy Cat Davis, a petite ball of fire, assumed the “surprise” role Greenidge portrayed the week before. Only David LM McIntyre returned in the same role as the first performance, that of Sidney. Though I missed getting to see the two night-off actors in a different pair of roles, I’ve now had the good fortune to see the entire Eat The Runt cast, and the 50/50 male-female mix gave last night’s performance a quite different feel than the 70/30 of the week before.

A lesbian crotch massage was now man-on-man action, with both Scher and Okin playing the scene to the hilt. (I would still love to see the two other permutations of this one.) Once again, a very white performer insisted on being African American and ranted against affirmative action. (How different this would be if either Coleman or Greenidge played Merritt!) A pair of woman-to-woman kisses became one opposite sex kiss and one with two male smoochers. Two characters each claiming to be the same person were now a 6’+ man and a 5’5” woman—to particularly comic effect. I did miss the Dynasty-style catfight, considerably less funny with a man and woman at odds (pretty hard to execute that one). Davis writhed on the floor and spoke in tongues every bit as hilariously as Greenidge had the week before, though I’d still enjoy seeing McIntyre get his chance to chew this bit of scenery.

I’ve become such an Eat The Runt fan that I’ve bought a ticket to return at the very end of the scheduled run. All good things really ought to come in threes, right?

Steven Stanley
August 24, 2010

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