It takes unique vision to turn poor service at a restaurant into inspiration for engaging entertainment, but playwright Wendy MacLeod pulls it off with Slow Food, now streaming from Long Beach’s International City Theatre. Inspired by her own experience, MacLeod developed thoughtful portraits of a long-married couple and the waiter who tortures them.
A husband, Stu James, evolves from hangry to manipulative to empathetic with the guidance of his wife, played by Meredith Thomas, the good cop to his bad. Together they must deal with a waiter (Perry Ojeda) who seems bent on denying them any sustenance beyond water. At one point the husband notes, “This isn’t service, this is a hostage situation.”
Slow Food presents the first-world problems of a couple on a high-end vacation in Palm Springs to celebrate their 23rd anniversary: a non-working hot tub at their expensive hotel and, of course, a waiter who’s not delivering. The couple have limited perspective on bigger issues; they seem financially stable, putting two sons through college without a mention of hardship. Their sole motivation remains getting fed, and any kindness or support they deign to offer their waiter is for that single-minded purpose.
Of course, the waiter doesn’t inspire sincere support. He’s heinous: narcissistic and power-mad. Even later in the show, when he admits he isn’t fulfilled by his chosen career, it’s difficult to care. He pits the couple against each other and expends his effort on holding up delivery of food and drink.
Director Marya Mazor masterfully uses technology to make it seem that these three people are all in the same place: perfectly matched backdrops and perfectly timed interactions, such as one character feeding the other when food finally makes it to the table. The show raises the bar on virtual theater; its clever solutions sometimes distract from the action in a “how’d they do that?” way.
Slow Food is available through May 16 only. Tickets are $30 per household and can be purchased here.