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Toast: Theater review by Sandy MacDonald
In a season already blessed with two effective break-room dramas (Skeleton Crew and Exit Strategy), it’s tough to drum up much interest in this 1999 throwback by the author One Man, Two Guvnors. Bean evidently learned a thing or two in the wake of this, his first play—like how to jump right into the action and not waste a good half-hour establishing character.
Inspired by the writer’s post-university stint working in a Midlands bread factory, the characters are an assortment of working stiffs, ranging from young-married Dezzie (Kieran Knowles), panting to use his mandatory downtime to rush home for a quickie, to grizzled veteran “Nellie” (Matthew Kelly), who has been manning the ovens for 45 years and—hulking about caked in oatmeal-bread batter—looks it. The other men are distinguishable by their quirks, but not much else. Foreman Blakey (Steve Nicolson), for instance, is forever grabbing his crotch—alpha-male posturing, presumably—while neat and cheerful Cecil (Simon Greenall) is fixated on goosing scruffy Peter (Matt Sutton), repeatedly sneaking up behind him to deliver a prankish tweak. The outlier in the seven-man crew is new student recruit, Lance (John Wark), brought in to help with a last-minute rush order. Informed that the crew typically puts in 12-hour shifts and a six-day week, Lance—dressed in a devil-red rugby shirt and sporting a fancy satchel—asks “Is that legal?” Blakey’s succinct answer: “You get paid.”
But enough to risk incineration when the production line breaks down, threatening not just the day’s output but the plant’s very survival? In the second act the action cranks up. Chronically stupefied Nellie, who comes across as an industrial accident waiting to happen, gives everyone a good scare, while undergoing one himself. Unfortunately Kelly cartoonishly indicates Nellie’s fright and confusion rather than authentically embodying the emotions, so the effect comes at one remove.
Lance also has a few surprises up his hitherto un-singed sleeve, but Wark telegraphs Lance’s oddity so pointedly (abrupt tonal shifts, bugged eyes) that you’d have to be facing a clear and present threat to your livelihood not to notice that there’s something seriously amiss.—Sandy MacDonald
59E59 Theaters (Off Broadway). By Richard Bean. Directed by Eleanor Rhode. With ensemble cast. Running time: 2hrs. One intermission.