by Cathy Hammer
Just opened at Theater for the New City, Dining With Ploetz is composed of three one act plays loosely held together by the theme of food. Presented in a black box space with modest set pieces provided by Mark Marcante and essential lighting by Alex Bartenieff, this fourth production of Richard Ploetz’s work in this venue should have been an opportunity to focus on the prolific writer’s word-smithery. The works are contenders for this year’s New York Innovative Theatre Awards. Unfortunately, like the birthday cake stuffed with flakes of obituary featured in Part One, the evening doesn’t quite hold together. However, like that odd dessert, it is also never boring.
Set in a loft in the eerily quiet rug district, Goldfish takes place late on the evening of Sabrina’s (Claudia Fabella) 6th birthday. She plays rather listlessly with a toy dump truck that she’s dressed in her abandoned doll’s hat. On the table are the remnants of her less-than-festive dinner: the aforementioned cake, a soup made of bones, and a full head of browning romaine standing upright in a glass container. Though it is 11:30 PM, Sabrina’s detached parents, George (Christopher Borg) and Cindy (Elizabeth A. Bell), along with Cindy’s friend Beth (Wynne Anders) continue to eagerly await the other guests. When Rick (Steven Hauck) and Susan (Jamie Heinlein) finally arrive, they are inappropriately dressed in formalwear and have a street poet, Bill (Ryan Hilliard), in tow. The cringeworthy event continues in absurdist fashion with strings of disconnected dialogue. All the characters are desperate and their relationships awkward, though each actor is provided with one nice moment in the spotlight. Unlike a classic Beckett, Pinter or Stoppard, this piece unspools like a Dadaist poem, with no clear argument made. Mr. Ploetz also directs.
The slightly superior second and third entries, confirm the ensemble cast’s talent and breadth. Like a Pale Green Clock features Heinlein and Borg as Louise and Robert, a couple celebrating their 16th anniversary 6 months early. While ordering a second bottle of Pouilly-Fumé and describing in detail how he plans to seduce his wife when they return home, Robert becomes distracted by Helen (Bell) at the neighboring table. He’s sure he knows her, but can’t place how or from where. Louise becomes annoyed at what she perceives as yet another of his boorish flirtations and Helen grows uncomfortable under his unwelcome gaze. The solo diner is consumed with her own tangled memories of a lost love and too much wasted time. As directed by Hauck, Heinlein and Bell show range as two distinct variations of fragile women being used as sources of entertainment. A shining Hilliard elicits the biggest audience response as the head waiter and “midwife” responsible for orchestrating their experience.
Of the three selections, Bone Appetite, is the tastiest, with a marked and witty viewpoint. Inspired by true events, it explores the meeting of the minds when a fading rock musician who has long fantasied about being stuffed and roasted answers an ad placed by a fastidious cannibal. With Ploetz, once again at the helm, Hauck and Borg turn in two fantastic performances as diner and main course, bouncing off each other until they literally speak the same language.
At a modest $18, this trio of plays makes for a mild distraction for lovers of drama with its core askew. It should be noted that 5% of the net profits are being donated to José Andres’s World Central Kitchen which is currently providing meals to survivors of Hurricane Dorian.
Photos: Kate Gaffney
Dining With Ploetz, Food for Thought: Goldfish, Memory Like a Pale Green Clock, & Bone Appetite, Three One-Acts by Richard Ploetz — Off-Broadway at Theater for the New City, 155 1st Avenue (Between 9th & 10th Street), New York City, NY 10003.
Performances Thursday, Friday, Saturday at 8PM, Sunday at 3PM. Running time is listed as 85 minutes, though opening night ran closer to two hours including a 15 minute intermission. Tickets are $18.00 and can be purchased at www.diningwithploetz.brownpapertickets.com or by calling (212) 868-4444. Limited run ends September 22