by Susan Hasho


The play Toast written by Richard Bean and directed by Eleanor Rhode opens in a British bread factory canteen. We are introduced to the cast of characters one by one as they file in for a Sunday 3pm shift. Blakey (Steve Nicolson) enters, goes to a pay phone and calls a Mr. Beckett, owner of the factory and asks for a fill-in worker. Colin (Will Barton) enters and shells out strike pay. Cecil (Simon Greenhall) enters; he’s a sort of a constant joker and light on his feet. He positions himself behind the door to surprise Peter (Matt Sutton), the next to enter and grabs his privates from behind. This is a running joke and for some reason, Peter is always caught off guard. Nellie (Matthew Kelly) shuffles in and his speech is slow, he is too tired to speak any faster. Dezzie (Kieran Knowles) enters in a rush and makes a big effort at prying off his motorcycle helmet. Lance (John Wark), the fill-in worker enters last. He eagerly carries a brown leather briefcase and sports a tweed jacket and red Rugby shirt. These men—working overtime and every day—get from slog to slog by making one dark and affectionate joke after another.


An emergency pops up—they have to make 3,000 loaves of bread for another factory and much grumbling ensues. A larger emergency emerges when the oven gets jammed by a bread tin and a decision must be made as to how to handle it. A bit of a gripping drama (does someone go into the hot, dangerous oven?), but it is solved without a feared consequence. And mysterious drama is slyly provided by the new guy.


The pace of this play is slow and the payoff might seem subtle, except that this production affords a feast of notable character actors, in perfect ensemble, performing small, detailed moments beautifully full of life and significance. Their lives are etched out in conversations that become the fabric of this play.


Slowly, Toast reveals the idiosyncratic connections between the men and the hopeless strain they are under. Richard Bean creates a microcosm in which we can see a world of despair in the labor force, and the humor in the play humanizes the plight in both stark and gentle ways. We, as an audience, are gathered into this life by the pace and the intricacy of the characters and their relationships. It may seem like a small, ordinary chasm over which they are balanced, but this factory is the world many people live in. And their journey belongs to us all.



Toast. Through May 26 at 59e59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street between Park and Madison Avenues).



Photo: Oliver King