How and Why I Robbed My First Cheese Store
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
May 21, 2011
This is one wacky play. It takes place at the small theatre operated by Mad Horse Company; their mascot—what appears to be a taxidermied horse, rearing on its hind legs—occupies a place of honor at the rear of the space. The action unfolds during a meeting among the key staff members of the theatre and then a few hours later during a dinner meeting they've organized for a particular visitor. The company members are Daven, the artistic director; Claudia, the public relations manager; Rex, the resident playwright; and Loren, the environment designer. Also employed here is Bruce, a mentally challenged fellow who doesn't have a fancy title but does seem to be in charge of serving food and cleaning up.
The particular visitor is Jim, a playwright who has submitted to this company a script bearing the same title as this play. That title's significance eventually becomes clear. At first all we know about Jim is that he has had the audacity to just come in and interrupt the important proceedings of this company to give Daven his script, whose title is written not in ink but in some kind of cheese spread product. Daven decides to give Jim a comeuppance by inviting him to dinner on the pretense of wanting to talk about the script, but in fact to con Jim into taking some menial position with the company. Jim accepts the invitation, and during the dinner party turns everyone else inside out.
How and Why I Robbed My First Cheese Store, which is written by Mike Gorman, a longtime downtown theatre contributor, is mostly about puncturing those who might take themselves too seriously at their downtown theatre work. I wouldn't particularly call it a loving sendup, but it's often right on the money in capturing how easy it is to fall in love with the idea of who you think you are and what you think you are doing, absent perspective or context or common sense.
Dave Bennett directs a superb cast, which is led by Alan B. Netherton as the near-irreversibly pretentious Daven. Netherton has a scene near the end of the play in which he has a conversation with himself, deconstructing his title and position of artistic director, that can only be called a tour-de-force. Melody Bates is funny and (intentionally) just this side of annoying as the perpetually upbeat publicist Claudia. Mary Notari and Thomas Piper are as dark and brooding as their all-black outfits (on-target costumes by Gabriel Berry) as Loren and Rex, respectively. Joe Mullen is always interesting as the mysterious playwright Jim. And Travis York threatens to steal the show every time he appears as the odd, muddled, troubled Bruce: he's funny and sympathetic at the same time.
How and Why I Robbed My First Cheese Store probably goes over the same territory more than it needs to; I thought it would have been more successful with about 15 minutes pruned away. But Gorman and his colleagues do have some valid and useful points to make about how to be sure we keep the "play" in plays. For insiders, especially, it's an engaging and entertaining piece of theatre.