As you enter Theater 3 in Theater Wit, you are immediately immersed in a familiar but not so familiar environment: an middle-brow restaurant kitchen. The level of detail is astounding, from the stocks of inventory, working dish sinks, prep tables, grill with fume hood, and even stains from water damage and age dripping down from the ceiling onto the tiled walls. Calming jazz and other background sounds permeate the entire space. Then, the clinks of knives, the scream of the grill, and the barking of orders is the new cacophony to become accustomed to as the play unfolds. To say it only gets more intense is an understatement.
Shattered Globe Theatre Digs Into Relationships of the Routine
The story of How to Use a Knife is one of which we all can imagine to a certain degree. What happens behind those swinging doors at our favorite american eateries. What are the stories behind the various employees? That mysterious portion that we can’t quite place or answer is where this play thrives.
George, a master chef turned recovering alcoholic and hothead, is hired by his old student as a favor. A naive college busboy and two wisecracking Guatemalan cooks complete this picture, and they quickly have to adapt to George’s new management style.
Everything seems to be fine until George bonds with Steve (played with subtle reserve by Anthony Irons), a seemingly West-African dishwasher with a kindred dark past. They make a bargain, anger management lessons for cooking lessons. These stories are real and complex, but covered with a veil of superficiality that only an hourly shift job can provide, something anyone with a first job in service can relate to.
Snider Serves Quick Wit
Perhaps the most obvious feature of this production is the pacing, a welcome shift from what one might expect in typical play fare. Playwright Will Snider’s dialogue comes at the audience at lightning speed, along with the barbs and action (a la Aaron Sorkin flicks or HBO’s Veep). As a result, this viewer was on the edge of his seat for most if not all of the play’s action packed hour forty run time (no intermission). Not only that, but the whole cast wields this dialogue just as deftly as the kitchen utensils they are operating, led by Peter DeFaria’s gutturally powerful George. What this quick pacing allows for is an intensity in the slower tempo areas that simply sizzles.
A Dash of Danger
This play has an element of fear and uncertainty that one may not normally encounter in a theatre outing. Audiences of How to Use a Knife will witness a once clean and orderly kitchen devolve into absolute shambles by the end. Potatoes, carrots, celery, silverware, broth, and whole pieces of furniture tumble and fly, leaving a wave of destruction and chaos. The relationships’ complexity leads to a bond between character and audience member, and that bond is stretched and pulled on like heartstrings. Tears will be shed, and maybe blood too.
Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read – Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.
May 5th- June 9th
Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays at 8 pm
Sundays at 3 pm
1229 W. Belmont Ave
Shelley Strasser Holland
J. Hampton Cade
Tina M. Jach
Note: An excerpt of this review appears in Theatre in Chicago