SLOW FOOD on the Pittsburgh Public Theater is Sartre meets Seinfeld in a Greek restaurant
Theater is back! Hopefully. I feel like I’m saying this at the beginning of every review I write, but things still feel precarious: will the Delta Variant move up and end the return of live entertainment, or will masks and vaccines get us into a state Almost normalized? ? Most theaters are about to return to full-time entertainment in person, which is cool. Very cool indeed. But before things really get going in the next few weeks, Marya Sea Kaminski and the Pittsburgh Public Theater have prepared a “filmed play”, or actually a tiny independent film.
In Wendy MacLeod’s pleasantly reserved, if light, slow food, a couple’s anniversary dinner in a Greek restaurant slowly (very slowly) turns into disaster as an overly personable waiter (Jason Shavers) interferes in their orders, conversations, and ultimately her Life. While Peter (Daniel Krell) and Irene (Daina Michelle Griffith) grapple with their growing hunger and frustration with the waiter Stephen, the restaurant’s unbearable “slow food” threatens to ruin their night, vacation, and perhaps even marriage.
Since taking office, director Kaminski has made a science out of projects that are less experimental than unexpected. Whether it’s shooting a mini-film in a real Pittsburgh restaurant or presenting a pared-down, half-staged Barefoot in the Park in a pop-up beer garden, Kaminski’s adaptations to the pandemic were absolutely certain. Wendy MacLeod’s play was a good choice to film in this particular style, which is characterized by low light, long fixed camera angles, and a slow, calm, sometimes intentionally awkward pace. This atmosphere of pleasant discomfort, combined with the almost constant Mediterranean muzak in the background, has a very Larry David quality; this could be an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm with almost no paraphrase. It’s not hard to imagine Jason Shavers happily and politely bumping into Larry and Cheryl as the evening progresses. His pleasantly flattering, exuberant, but never quite cheeky or stereotypical Stephen is a helper through and through, even one who doesn’t know when his help is neither wanted nor needed.
Daina Michelle Griffith and Daniel Krell continue to prove why they are the most popular theatrical couple and double act in downtown Pittsburgh. They quarrel like a married couple because they are one, and Griffith’s gushing energy over a more serious interior goes well with Krell’s gradually fading noise. I’ve had the pleasure of working closely with all three cast members over the years and I have to say these are some of the nicest, funniest, and most talented people you could ask for on OR offstage. Any awkwardness or discomfort you feel is purely and completely part of the game.
I would be remiss not to mention the food element of the show. The Public filmed the show at Pittsburgh’s trendiest jazz bar and eatery, Con Alma, but the restaurant on the show itself is a Greek bistro. To build on the topic, Broadway On Demand subscribers will receive a bonus offer in which Kaminski will prepare an authentic spanakopita with a cook and a priest from Pittsburgh’s presentation of the Christ Greek Orthodox Church. Gourmets: The Greek festival here in the Burgh is a MUST. (Unfortunately the commercial for a new Greek restaurant at the end of Slow Food is an Easter egg, not an affiliated sponsorship. I had to write to the public myself to check this, but unfortunately not a new restaurant for me.)
My deepest wish is still that the pandemic is over and that the cinemas return to normal in no time. But if I have a second wish, it is for continuous accessibility and innovation. The streaming theater isn’t going to go away anytime soon, as the filmed remounts of Waitress, Aladdin, and Anything Goes can attest when they release early next year. And outdoor productions last spring and summer were fun, festive and al fresco events that I wouldn’t want to see go away. Still, Slow Food proves that the audience is as good as ever and only gets better from here.