Breakfast For Dinner
nytheatre.com review by Jon Stancato
August 15, 2006
Suspense is a bit like laughter, tears, and revulsion: a visceral trigger that a skilled artist can use to disarm even critical audiences. Just as there can be guilty laughter, there is a sort of "guilty" suspense—at least, this is the best way to describe what I felt at Oracle Theatre's tautly directed production of Isaac Rathbone's darkly comic thriller, Breakfast for Dinner. In spite of my significant reservations about the play, it successfully held me in the grips of its paranoia from start to finish.
Given the creative team's crafty manipulation of audience anxiety, I hesitate to discuss the plot at all, as even the first scene's secrets could unravel the play's intrigue. What I can say, however, is that the (double) murder mystery concerns Roger, a friendly and soft-spoken gas station attendant; Jim, a snappily-dressed smooth-talker (who loves eating "breakfast for dinner" at the local diner); and Jerry, a neurotic accountant. Investigating the case are the crossword-puzzle-obsessed Officer Ford ("What's a 6 letter word for 'in the wrong?' Starts with a G and ends with Y?" he asks during an interrogation) and the hardboiled Officer Stan Stone, straight out of a film noir parody with lines like "How many times did you French kiss your mother with that sick mouth, wise guy?" We discover, however, that no one in Rathbone's world is quite who they appear to be and everyone has a darker streak; all of these streaks end up being somehow tied to the Internet, and Rathbone clearly casts this "sick computer world" as the true villain here.
My primary reservation regarding Rathbone's text is its inability to decide what it is. Unlike Jim, I don't really care for breakfast for dinner; meal-muddying seems to suck the distinct pleasures from both experiences and Rathbone's script is plagued by a similar problem. This 70-minute piece was recently expanded from a one-act, and it's still experiencing some growing pains in its stylistic coherence. A naturalistic diner scene gives way to a highly stylized and absurdly comic interrogation (that deftly takes its cues from classic film noir), then veers right back to another realistic, albeit ominous, scene. It's a credit to Rathbone's dexterity that both styles are rendered skillfully, but they just don't feel like they belong in the same play, or at least not yet. Perhaps if the piece continues to develop, Rathbone and his collaborators will find the unique (and coherent) world that can emerge from the fusion of these styles.
Much of Breakfast for Dinner's suspense can be credited to Joni Weisfeld's relentless and brutal direction. Also a choreographer by trade, she keeps the actors frenetically moving around (but never just pacing) the challenging ¾-thrust space, providing some of the most affecting and realistic stage combat I've ever had the (gruesome) pleasure to see. Unfortunately, her ensemble of actors is not always up to speed, and at times appears under-rehearsed. Nevertheless, Joe Beaudin as Roger is endearingly doofy (like Will Ferrell at his most vulnerable), and if you close your eyes, you might think Ian Pfister's Officer Stan Stone stepped right out of a 1940s noir. Jay Scott does his best to create interesting shadows with the limited lighting rig provided, and the ambitious sound design by Brett Marshall Lefferts blends eerie down-tempo electronica with moody sax numbers.
All criticism aside, I left the theatre anxiously looking over my shoulder in broad daylight, so if suspense is what you're craving, it's on the menu at Breakfast for Dinner.