Review: ‘Blueberry Toast’ from Echo Theater Company is a darkly whimsical dish
The kitchen wallpaper is relentlessly cheery. Board games are scattered on the floor, eagerly waiting to be picked up again. All the ingredients for a scrumptious breakfast stand at the ready.
Something is obviously wrong with this picture. In “Blueberry Toast,” playwright Mary Laws creates a storybook world of domestic sweetness that sends itself up with the first overzealous “Good morning, dear!”
The play, which is receiving its world premiere by Echo Theater Company at Atwater Village Theatre, wears its artificiality on its sleeve. The production, directed by Dustin Wills, is like a cross between “The Brady Bunch” and “Pee-wee’s Playhouse.” (Amanda Knehans’ set and Kim Ngo’s costumes appear to take additional inspiration from the game Candy Land.)
Walt (Albert Dayan), a poetry teacher at the local middle school with a brusque manner, sits at the table on a Sunday morning grading assignments. His wife, Barb (Jacqueline Wright), manically chipper, offers to make him breakfast. He wants blueberry pancakes but asks for blueberry toast.
Turns out he hates blueberry toast. She tries to entice him with her recipe, but the word “compote” is enough to turn his stomach. The more she insists he try some, the more he digs in his heels.
This minor marital standoff doesn’t seem like such a big deal, but it begins to take on Quentin Tarantino proportions as the stresses and strains of Walt and Barb’s life together reveal themselves.
Their escalating battle is interrupted periodically by their two children, Jack (Michael Sturgis) and Jill (Alexandra Freeman), who behave like figures in a deranged nursery rhyme. The kids frenetically perform scenes from the childish pageant they’ve been composing — ludicrous bits their parents pretend they love before returning to their all-out war over breakfast.
Laws, a writer on the AMC series “Preacher,” wrote “Blueberry Toast” while in a workshop at the Yale School of Drama taught by playwright Sarah Ruhl (“The Clean House,” “Eurydice”), whose influence is palpable. The humor of the play goes from fey to sinister in a blink. Gender roles are parodied in both familiar and unpredictable ways. Yodeling can break out at any moment.
There’s something slightly dated about Laws’ flamboyant mockery of conventional heterosexual marriage. “Blueberry Toast” at times plays like an absurdist period piece poking fun at traditional sitcom depictions of American families. Fortunately, the twisted nature of the comedy rescues the play from falling into clichés. (Warning: Everyday kitchen objects are creatively deployed as weapons.)
The actors perform their loony roles with ferocious conviction. Wright’s bug-eyed Barb makes hilariously pathetic cat noises when her husband threatens to pay another visit to the neighbor he just might be having an affair with. Dayan’s Walt erupts in patriarchal explosions that are all the more frightening for seeming contrived and self-generated. Sturgis’ Jack and Freeman’s Jill spin about like broken tops while trying to avert their eyes from the despair and depravity around them.
The sexuality of the male characters seems ambiguous here, but Laws keeps things strange and unexplained. Perhaps too much so. The resolution isn’t very satisfying — the savagery wears itself out — but the dark giggling whimsy is a delight.
Where: Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave., Los Angeles
When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 4 p.m. Sundays, 8 p.m. select Mondays and Thursdays; ends Oct. 24
Information: (310) 307-3753 or www.EchoTheaterCompany.com
Running time: 1 hour, 10 minutes
Follow me @charlesmcnulty
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