Sandwich spread can kill you if you live in the all-too-familiarly dysfunctional family depicted in James Comtois's quietly critical play, Mayonnaise Sandwiches. In a series of cookie-cutter-like scenes, Comtois presents the typically messed-up postmodern family going through the motions of faux-normalcy. In a collage of pat scenework, magic realism, musical interludes, dreamscapes, and self-conscious parody, nothing particularly shocking occurs. Yet in a style reminiscent of Thornton Wilder, Comtois gently makes the ordinary extraordinary in a play whose cumulative effect subtly supersedes each vignette's individual contributions to the narrative.
Central to this family unit is twentysomething Simon (Bryan Fenkart), a jobless musician wannabe who still lives with his parents and spends his time drinking, surfing the Internet, and denying his statutory rape adventures with high-schooler Erin (Diane Currie). Setting the warped example is businesswoman Mom (Leslie E. Hughes), whose rather Oedipal relationship with Simon includes a combination of persistent nagging and competition with Erin. Mom is remarried to Dad (Don Piccin), the ultimate laid-back father upon whose deadly dietary habits the play's title is based. Completing the family circle is the little lad Ricky (Raum-Aron), whose 19-year age spread with his sibling is greater than that of Mom and Simon.
With this so-called family, there is no comfortable chatting, no connections between characters, and no relationship that doesn't feel forced by circumstance. Far away from the ubiquitous violence and yelling that usually accompany such dramas, this play is littered with short exchanges on banal topics. Nonetheless, typical dysfunctionality pervades their interactions, as no real communication is ever achieved. Moments of honesty peep out most significantly through Simon and his music; however, it is only through musical soliloquies, rather than through any growth of this band, that he can actually sing.
Woyzeck-like in structure, with interchangeable, uncomplicated scenes, the production attempted to explore in a quasi-Cubist style the world of a family tainted by taboo and mired in alienation. The script, while not unified and cohesive, bravely experimented with form in search of some elemental emotional truths. Notably, there was, within the script, a struggle between Mom and Simon over whose story this was. However, the actors' strong rapport brought to life under-wrought scenework and made prosaic kitchen-sink dialog engaging, snappy, and even-flowing. Like Joe Buck at the climax of the film Midnight Cowboy, Simon finally eases off his selfishness and makes baby steps toward an empathic relationship with his younger brother.
What also made this production particularly enjoyable was the estimable exuberance and energy exerted by cast and crew. Excellent and efficient use was made of Derek Brashears's simple sets in a small space. Through Pete Boisvert's direction, the cast played softly against the text, creating a production light, quirky, and comical that might otherwise have come across as hackneyed, shallow, and dull. The cacophonic and clever sound design (Patrick Shearer) established the TV and radios as characters in their own right. And impressively the cast went through a myriad of apropos costume changes, elucidating subtleties in the characters' relationships. Taken together, this production was an intelligent, serious, and fun realization of an exploratory script that sought to comprehend problematic family matters.
(Also starring Christopher Yustin, Chris Mollica, and Gregory Ritchie.)
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Copyright 2004 Adam Cooper