Review by Carole Di Tosti
Caroline’s Kitchen written by Torben Betts, directed by Alastair Whatley begins as TV host Caroline (Caroline Langrishe) and Amanda (Jasmyn Banks) rehearse for the titular show which will be live the following day in its season finale. As the play progresses we discover that Caroline successfully lives in her TV kitchen as an expert chef who has a following for her divine recipes, easy manner and celebrity mystery guests. Off camera, her life, guided by her faith in God is in a shambles and is moving rapidly on a downhill slide into the abyss.
Betts fills his sardonic comedy with ironies as we discover the troubles in Caroline’s family, all of which take place and/or are unmasked in the kitchen. We assume that it is the only place where she is at peace and in her element of success in this TV studio kitchen, which is attached to the house and serves as a functioning set for her live program.
Considering that a kitchen symbolizes a key place where food is prepared with love and is akin to home and the hearth, this TV kitchen is the antithesis of that. It represents what is artificial and seemingly perfect, but only on the surface. Because the house is up for sale and Caroline is expecting to show it, they will be dining in the TV kitchen this evening so that the house kitchen is presumably kept spotless and undisturbed to present its best side (an irony).
A reverse happens on this auspicious evening. The house kitchen becomes the “show” kitchen and the TV kitchen becomes the true hearth around which every sub rosa trial and secret angst the family has been harboring is uncovered. It is in this “reality show” kitchen, the family thrashes out its problems and foibles as it attempts to reconcile past regrets and hurts on this thundering, lightning-filled night which arrives at the climax of the play. It is the grandest irony on this evening that Caroline, a devout Christian has had her faith tested and tried and perhaps, is found wanting.
In a humorous and ever-increasing series of disastrous reveals, everything goes wrong for Caroline. The situation and conflicts among Caroline and all the players, her son Leo, (Tom England) her carpenter/lover Graeme (James Sutton) her age-related-PTSD husband Mike (Aden Gillett) and Graeme’s mentally neurotic wife Sally (Elizabeth Boag) escalate. They finally explode in the climax of the play during which God’s reign of terror in the form of a Nor’easter shakes the house and the people in it. In the midst of various and sundry “cataclysms” in Caroline’s once neatly manicured, landscaped life, her son disgraces her and her uber macho husband with his admission that he is gay. It is a condition the manly Mike simply cannot register.
As Caroline, Caroline Langrishe does a very fine job of holding it all together and maintaining the reality of a woman of faith who actually hasn’t lived up to the tenets of her Christianity and is a hypocrite. The humor lies in her not seeing or understanding this with a sweet blind, deaf and dumbness that is funny, but also exasperating. However, it makes for a revelatory conclusion and symbolism at the end, with God’s exclamation point of a horrific storm. Indeed, at Caroline’s hearth what has she wrought?
The supporting cast who are Caroline’s foils are equally believable and humorous in attempting to reach their goals and failing at them.
The set design by James Perkins is functional and beautifully suits the action and excellent staging by director Alastair Whatley. James Perkins’ lighting and the music and sound design by Max Pappenheim and associate sound design by Richard Bell enhance the theme and symbolism of God reigning judgment down on Caroline and her unruly “brood” that she is supposed to be influencing in a positive way. And Jeremy Barlow’s fight direction works great for eliciting reality from Aden Gillett’s Mike who “rages
Caroline’s Kitchen is a delightful and enjoyable production. The pacing is well executed by the actors, guided by Alastair Whatley. The play develops with irony, elasticity and logic to a fine, memorable conclusion.
Photos: Sam Taylor
Caroline’s Kitchen runs 1 hour 35 minutes with no intermission at 59E59 Theaters (59 E59th street between Madison and Park Avenues as a part of the Brits Off Broadway season. Performances conclude 25 May. You can get tickets and times on their website at https://www.59e59.org/shows/show-detail/carolines-kitchen/