Reviewed by Deborah Klugman
Atwater Village Theatre
Extended through October 29
Blueberry Toast may not feature a knockout script, but it sure packs a punch when inimitable performer Jacqueline Wright, at her manic and brilliant best, takes on one of the lead roles.
In Mary Laws’s 70 minute one-act, Wright plays Barb, an unhappy suburban wife seeking validation from her indifferent spouse. That would be Walt (Albert Dayan), her narcissistic and most probably straying husband. The couple have two elementary school children, son Jack and daughter Jill (adult thespians Michael Sturgis and Alexandra Freeman) who indulge in ditzy playtime preoccupations, which divert their attention from the escalating and ultimately bloody marital strife going down in the kitchen.
Masking the real bone of contention, their mutually unsatisfying marriage, Walt and Barb argue over blueberry toast, which Barb initially serves to Walt at his request (in an effort to keep him from going out) but which he then contrarily rejects, demanding blueberry pancakes instead. Instead of complying, Barb again prepares him the toast (toast spread with blueberry compote), imploring him to at least taste it. He stubbornly refuses and orders her back to the stove to make pancakes, whereupon the cycle repeats, to the growing rage and frustration of each. Meanwhile, the kids keep interrupting, eager to perform for their parents the four-act “play” they have conceived, and invariably making their entrance at inappropriate (copulating or borderline homicidal) moments.
Smartly paced by director Dustin Wills, the play’s action is a clear metaphor for a deeper repressed dynamic between the sexes and among the family; the writing is effective in places, but it’s also repetitive elsewhere, and the writer’s efforts to be clever in a zany sort of way — the carryings-on of the kids, for example — aren’t inherently funny and would fall flat were it not for the uniformly high standard of the performances.
As Jack, Sturgis calls to mind one of Steve Martin’s clueless characters (although not so clueless that he doesn’t perceive his father’s doting preference for his sister Jill, just as Barb is cognizant of Jill and Walt’s attachment for each other, to her exclusion.)
Freeman executes with aplomb her outsized portrayal of a kittenish Daddy’s girl, while (to the performer’s credit) Dayan’s Walt transforms from an irritating nebbish to a dangerous live wire. And Wright, well, her Barb is an unquenchable firecracker from start to finish.
The production elements are as colorful as the performances. With its outrageous wallpaper (decked with strawberries and other unidentifiable fruits and flowers) and aqua-painted furniture, designer Amanda Knehans’s insouciant set is a major player in the shenanigans. Kim Ngo’s apropos costumes, Ahmed Best’s fight choreography and Narges Narouzi’s properties and special effects add to the flammable mix that makes this a side-splittingly freakish satire.
The Echo Theater Company at Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave, Atwater Village; Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; Mon., 8 p.m.; Oct. 2 & Oct. 24, Thurs. 8 p.m., Oct. 6 & 13. Extended through October 29th. (310) 307-3753 or www.EchoTheaterCompany.com. Running time: 70 minutes