Ozzie And Harriet could take lessons from Walt and Barb in suburban perfection, or at least they could until Walt’s disdain for this morning’s breakfast entree turns things haywire in Mary Laws’ bizarre absurdist black comedy Blueberry Toast, an Echo Theatre World Premiere highlighted by a pair of bravura performances by Jacqueline Wright and Albert Dayan.
Amanda Knehan’s stunning set (think June Cleaver’s kitchen had Leave It To Beaver been shot in saturated Technicolor hues) cues us in even before lights-up that we are about to find ourselves in a world where “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands” is taken dead serious.
No wonder then that when 40something high school poetry teacher Walt requests blueberry toast before heading off to work, stay-at-home housewife Barb obeys his wishes, even mixing a little honey and lemon into the blueberries, “like a compote,” i.e. just as any submissive wife worth her salt (or blueberries) should.
It’s only when Walt insists that no, he did not ask for blueberry toast, he said blueberry pancakes because he wanted blueberry pancakes (and in any case “blueberry toast isn’t a thing” and compote is “a disgusting word”) that it becomes clear that Margaret Anderson had it a lot easier than Barb does in trusting that Father Knows Best. (She certainly did not have to deal with her hubby’s possible dalliance with the neighbor.)
And that’s as specific as I’m going to get about Blueberry Toast, except to add that of all theatrical genres, probably none requires the genius of an Ionesco or a Stoppard or an Albee to hit the mark, and Laws seems more intent on shocking us than anything else.
That’s not to say that Blueberry Toast isn’t entertaining. It most certainly is, and with director Dustin Wills moving things along at a breakneck pace (and at a brisk seventy minutes), Laws’ comedy does not outstay its welcome.
Most of all, it offers audiences the chance to witness L.A. theater treasure Wright attack yet another off-kilter role as only she can, taking Barb from Donna Reed to Jack Nicholson without missing a beat, and undergoing what may well be the physical workout of her acting career.
Dayan’s more understated take on the (at least initially) buttoned-down Walt gives Wright a perfect foil to play off of, and like his costar, he takes on the role’s body-taxing demands full-throttle.
Completing the cast as precocious preteen offspring Jack and Jill are talented 20somethings Michael Sturgis and Alexandra Freeman, at assorted intervals enacting the siblings’ off-the-wall self-penned “four-act play,” one that shows off recent USC grad Sturgis in show-stopping song-and-dance-boy mode. (As for brother-and-sister’s play-within-a-play itself, like Blueberry Toast, your guess is as good as mine.)
Kim Ngo’s picture-perfect costumes and Narges Narouzi’s kitchenful of props bring Blueberry Toast’s sitcom fantasy world to vivid life, the Hansel-and-Gretel outfits Ngo has given Jack and Jill proving a particularly apt choice for a play that seems at times a contemporary take on the darkest of Grimm’s Fairy Tales. Chris Wojcieszyn’s vibrant lighting and Jeff Gardner’s appropriately quirky sound design complete an all-around sensational production design.
Fight choreography doesn’t get any better, or more rough-and-tumble than Ahmed Best’s, and Narouzi deserves special credit for property and special effects design.
Anna Engelsman is production stage manager and Amanda Wagner is assistant stage manager.
I’m not quite sure what to make of Blueberry Toast The Play. At the very least, it got me thinking, even if those thoughts were at times, “WTF am I watching here?” One thing is certain, though. Playwright Laws could not have asked for a finer team to bring her words to life than Echo Theatre Company.
Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave, Atwater Village.
September 19, 2106
Photos: Darrett Sanders