A dozen actors take turns playing all eight roles in Eat The Run, Avery Crozier’s uniquely addictive black comedy, now back for a return visit to Hollywood’s Theatre Of NOTE, and to paraphrase a classic TV commercial, “Bet you can’t see it just once.”

On the surface, Eat The Runt seems hardly the stuff of great drama, let alone the laugh-out-loud comedy that it is.

Its plot is wispy in the extreme. A candidate for a high-level fund-raising position in a major big-city art museum is interviewed by various museum higher-ups as we in the audience wonder, “Will he/she get the job?”

Playwright Crozier’s dialog can be downright hilarious (and gasp-provoking), as when job candidate Merritt responds to human resources coordinator Jean’s interview-opening “How are you?” with an unexpected complaint about a very private body part, followed by a litany of R-rated ailments leading to a final confession, “God, I hope I don’t break wind during one of these interviews. That would be pretty embarrassing.”

You may find yourself leaning forward in your seat to figure out just what the blazes is up with Merritt, whose series of interviews with the museum’s director of development, curator of modern art, trustee, and director seem unlikely to snag him/her the job in question. Is he/she from Oklahoma with a Midwest drawl or, as he/she later claims, a New Orleans native 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? (That playwright Crozier manages to find 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.)

Still, if ever there were a case of the gimmick rather than the play being the thing, Eat The Runt’s gimmick is that thing. And what a gimmick it is!

Theatre_of_NOTE_Ensemble_for_Eat_the_Runt__091 Every one of Eat The Runt’s cast of twelve multiracial, multi-aged actors (eight female and four male this time round) has learned all of the play’s roles and all but one of them has absolutely no idea which character he or she will be playing until the audience assigns the parts from out of a basket.

Interviewee Merritt could be male or female, black or white, younger or older, and so could Chris, Jean, Royce, Hollis, Sidney, and Pinky. The possible cast permutations are endless, and these tens of thousands of possibilities begin to dawn on the audience beginning with one of the play’s earliest scenes, which has Royce massaging Merritt’s crotch with his or her foot, the effects (and implications) of this scene varying as to 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 hardly a follicle on his 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 a Dynasty-style catfight.

A terrifically fun time is guaranteed even if you see Eat The Runt only once. See it twice and it gets even better. Three times or more may be best of all, and returning audience members not only get a discount for themselves and their party, they are offered the chance to pick a particular actor for a particular role the next time they attend.

Eat The Runt’s smart, ingenious script gets laughs regardless of who’s playing whom, the gender-bending only serving 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.”

Playwright Crozier (whose bio refers to him/her as “he” one moment and “she” the next) has written dialog with hardly a single “he” or “she,” no small feat. In fact, One of Eat The Runt’s best laughs is one character’s reaction to another character’s comment, “Oh, good for her.”

I saw Eat The Runt three times three summers ago, and though a busy review schedule has kept me down to only two visits this time round, I was able to catch all but one of its dozen stars, with the added treat of getting to see its brilliant director Tom Beyer step into one of the play’s two biggest parts due to a cast member’s delayed flight back to L.A.

1012252_10151488401836114_140931196_n The ensemble couldn’t be more sensational, each of them putting his or her own stamp on every single role.

Tony DeCarlo plays Merritt as an edgy computer nerd type with sudden quirky tics. Krista Conti is a statuesque, manic chameleon in the role, giving an even richer performance than when she was my very first Merritt in 2010.

Travis York’s Chris is a sad-sack underdog, the kind of guy who always fades into the woodwork, making it no wonder the museum has decided not to fill the position with in-house talent. Tricia Munsford is a sunny blonde who is probably just too girl-next-door normal for the promotion.

As Royce, Julia Prud’homme is a scrumdiddlyumptious cross between Emma Thompson, Deborah Kerr, and Dame Edna, while Christopher Neiman plays the part with a nerdy charm and a transparent delight at getting an unexpected foot massage from a tasty brunette.

As Sydney, Lisa Clifton is a British Naomi Watts turned sunglasses-sporting California beach blonde. In Dawn Greenidge’s hands, the trustee is a confident African-American exec. In addition, each evening’s Hollis doubles in the cameo role of Jean. Clifton plays the human resources coordinator pinch-faced, as if having just gotten a whiff of an unpleasant odor, while Greenidge makes Jean prim-and-proper—and probably the museum’s oldest living employee.

As Pinky, Keiko Elizabeth is as tightly-wound as her dress is tight. Lauren Letherer makes the museum director considerably looser and loopier but every bit as fun to watch. (2001 saw Pinky played as a Blake Carrington-like “silver fox” and [by Clifton] as a sunny blonde Krystal Carrington crossed with Donna Reed.)

Alexis DeLaRosa’s Hollis is a Dominican-American James Bond slash GQ print model. DeCarlo gives us a geeky Hollis who wears his yarmulke as a badge of Jewish pride. (In 2001, the same character was played flamboyantly gay one night, and [by Letherer] as a butch lesbian the next.)

As for last minute understudy Beyer (and Letherer the night before), I can only say that he/she …

Apologies to both splendid actors, but my lips are sealed as to Eat The Runt’s end-of-Act One surprise except to say that there is an outrageously funny speaking-in-tongues scene that is alone worth the price of admission, whether played by Beyer or Letherer or anyone else in the cast.

(Remaining cast member Kimberly Yates’ flight did arrive in time for her to enjoy Beyer’s unplanned star turn from the audience’s point of view, as did fellow cast member Prud’homme.)

The luck of the draw gave both of this review’s Eat The Runts a decidedly heterosexual bent. On a different night, should male cast members happen to get picked to play Merritt, Royce, and the Act Two surprise, the play could turn into Michelle Bachmann’s worst nightmare (and Marcus’s wettest dream). And lesbians are hereby urged to reserve their tickets for Friday August 16th’s all-female night.

Garret Maggart’s classy set design lets us see every single one of Eat The Runt’s many scene locales on NOTE’s compact stage, the 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 Rebecca Sigl’s props all merit a big thumbs up. Prop assistant Jenna Banko is in charge of set dressing. Eat The Runt is stage managed by Jennifer Caspellan and produced for NOTE by John Money.

I positively ate up Eat The Runt all three times I saw it in 2010, and it is every bit as tasty in 2013. Enjoy the meal. And trust me. You’ll want to return for seconds.

Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga, Hollywood.

–Steven Stanley
August 8 and 9, 2013

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