Review: 'The Caterer' at Whitefire Theatre
In his program note, Brian Alan Lane relates that “The Caterer,” his “dark comedy” now premiering at the Whitefire Theatre, was written some decades ago for his MFA thesis. The additional information that the play, which deals with themes of untimely death, was written a year after he survived a car wreck that killed his mother, his brother and his best friend excites our sympathy and our interest, right up front.
Sincere condolences to Mr. Lane, whose impressively extensive list of credits, from television to academia to the print media, suggests that he eventually rallied from his loss. Now, Mr. Lane should offer condolences to his audience for the collateral damage of the droning and self-important barrage that is “The Caterer.”
Surreal and non-chronological, the play is essentially a propulsive stream of verbiage that strives for a spoken-word spontaneity. Perhaps intended as absurdism, the scattershot dialectics sound as if they were recorded at a logicians’ pot party.
LeVar Burton plays Oliver Mestman, a doctor who sells dying millionaire video game designer Stan Guest (James Hiroyuki Liao) an “appropriate death.” Stan ponies up $10 million for the privilege of being whacked without notice by Oliver, who makes it clear that this will be a one-time-only murder to provide for his comatose daughter’s medical bills. Yet later, when Stan reconsiders the deal and offers even more cash for Oliver to lay off, Oliver refuses, for reasons that remain ludicrously unclear.
Unanswered questions proliferate. Why exactly does Oliver leave his staunch wife Flo (Burnadean Jones) and take up with Flo’s detested sister Sadie (Angelle Brooks), a devil with a heart of gold who runs an opium “din” that offers addictive sounds to the wired-in clientele? And why does Ingrid (Cynthia Watros), Stan’s adoring wife, never call the cops when she learns that her husband has been poisoned by Oliver, who supposedly has an antidote on him at the time? Instead, Ingrid just screams and cries and takes a fond farewell of her doomed spouse.
Lane, who also directs, manages a reasonably slick staging, thanks largely to his proficient cast. Blessings upon Burton, who invests the prevalent gobbledygook with such authority that we keep struggling to make sense of things, long after the realization that Lane’s philosophically prolix play is a thankless exercise in non sequitur.
--F. Kathleen Foley
“The Caterer,” Whitefire Theatre, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 3 and 8 p.m. Sundays. Ends May 10. $34.99. (323) 960-7724. Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes.
Photo: LeVar Burton and James Hiroyuki Liao. Credit: Richard J. Lee