A suddenly meatless world serves as the pretext for what well may be the most bizarre dinner party in the history of contemporary theater in Celine Song’s absurdist black comedy The Feast, now being given a terrific Los Angeles New Court Theatre L.A. Premiere in precisely the kind of DTLA loft-with-view in which said dinner party might actually take place.
A ten-minute monolog starts things off with our hostess Wendy (Josie Adams) bemoaning a planet sans meat (“No matter how much lettuce we stuff our faces with to forget all the meats and the way they taste so good, this profound lack of bacon never once goes unnoticed”), after which it’s time to meet tonight’s dinner guests—Wendy’s neurologist brother-in-law Xander (Josey Montana McCoy) and her bickering married friends Rhett (Lucas Dixon) and Sam (Jamie Janek)—all of whom would like nothing better than to start chowing down if only Wendy’s brain surgeon husband Francis (Michael Fariss) would sew up and show up.
In the meantime, there’s bottle after bottle of red wine to be imbibed, during which time a) Xander interrupts his newspaper reading to talk about his job (he dissects and euthanizes mice…in that order), b) Rhett goes on a rant in defence of his seeming indifference to “the genocides happening in those countries I can’t quite pronounce the names of,” and c) Sam, who owes her life to Francis’s ability to remove a self-inflicted bullet from the brain, reveals a history of afternoon infidelities with the garbage man, the gardener, the postman, etc. (“They all taste different. Every single one. It’s very exotic.”)
Those unfamiliar with Beckett, Ionesco, and their fellow absurdists may find themselves scratching their heads at a playwright who seems, like the characters she has created, to have gone off the deep end. (One sequence has Rhett and Sam applying lipstick to each other’s mouths in an attempt to time-travel back a million years. Another has the entire bunch inking each other’s skin with Marks-A-Lots. And just wait till Francis finally shows up more than an hour late to a tableful of increasingly famished dinner guests.)
I’ll leave it up to those with a greater familiarity with Théâtre de l’Absurde to decide whether The Feast deserves mention in the same breath with Waiting For Godot, The Bald Soprano, and Rhinoceros.
What I can say with absolute certainty is that as performed by a gifted young cast under Marianna Caldwell’s sharp direction (with a panoramic downtown view backing the action), The Feast kept me riveted for its entire ninety minutes, and though several of The Feast’s roles appear to have been written for actors well into their thirties and forties, the LANCT ensemble do such powerful work that we somehow buy it when 20somethings express nostalgia for their faraway youth.
Adams’ innate perkiness suits the perennially upbeat Wendy to a T, even as we sense that things just might start unraveling with our hostess at any minute. McCoy too is ideally cast as Xander, whose nerdiness implodes in a dazzling meltdown monolog that would do Jim Carrey proud.
Dixon makes Rhett a seething mass of contradictions, then aces one of an actor’s toughest challenges (a sudden breakdown into authentic sobs) made even tougher by all the wild-and-crazy stuff happening around him. Janek’s Sam may be outwardly hard as nails, but there’s a sadness and vulnerability beneath the bravado.
Finally, though Francis is given considerably less stage time, Fariss matches his castmates in dramatic chops, his lean-and-sexy-Jesus look proving coincidentally just what the playwright ordered.
LANCT’s decision to stage The Feast at Astroetic Studios in L.A.’s Fashion District proves an inspired one given the number of young urban professionals like Wendy and Francis now making DTLA their home, and all that’s needed as set design are a dining table, chairs, and a rug around which the audience sits on two sides, the lights of L.A.-by-night providing a picturesque backdrop. Lighting (by Christine Madedo), costumes, and sound design (dramatic orchestral tracks linking scenes) are all first-rate.
Michael D. Finley is assistant director. Daniel Shelden is stage manager. Emily A. Fisher is production manager. Megan and Nathan Burkart are your hosts. (A reception follows each performance.)
As their Scenie-winning productions of Little Man and I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change and their Hollywood Fringe 2015 Top 10 production of Jason & (Medea) have demonstrated, the Webster University Conservatory Of Theatre Arts grads (and friends) who call themselves The Los Angeles New Court Theatre are some of L.A.’s finest young talents. The Feast makes this even more abundantly clear.
Astroetic Studios, 224 E 11th St, Los Angeles.
November 14, 2105