Despite a paper-thin script and a few unfortunate performances, “The Human Buffet” is an easygoing, innocuous evening of theater that glides on charm, an inherent sweetness and the light touch of director Janet Shea.
Author Bunny Wingate’s play will particularly appeal to those who have found themselves thrown into the deep end of the dating pool late in life.
Director Shea keeps the tale moving, doesn’t overcook the limited action, and lets a trio of old smoothies in Margeaux Fanning, Andee Reed and actor/impresario Mikko breathe fun into the shaggy dog story.
Even with an intermission, it lasts only a little over an hour. Not long after you realize how silly it all is, the lights have come up at Mid-City Theatre.
Wingate’s yarn is about recent divorcee Tally (Fanning) who is maneuvered into the sketchy world of online dating in the aftermath of a disastrous marriage. A woman of some means and possessing a good heart, Tally relents to her pushy but friendly neighbors and decides to create an Internet profile to find the sort of man who has been missing from her life.
Of course, the men she finds might have been missing, but it becomes quickly apparent they should’ve stayed lost.
Not a bad premise, but Wingate’s script is underdeveloped.
“The Human Buffet’s” comedy is based too much on set ups that aren’t given time to grow and punch lines that too often miss. Furthermore, it has a few subplots that go nowhere, and crucially unsatisfying, it rushes into its conclusion with an “ideal” suitor (Des Crain) who is a little less than ideal.
However, what it does have is a warm affection for its characters, and that sweet nature provides actors Fanning and Reed opportunities to shine.
A founding member of Four Humours Theatre, Fanning has her first comic lead on a New Orleans stage, and she proves an adept talent. We root for her, especially in her comic reactions to the increasingly awful suitors who come a-calling.
Her slowly growing horror at a would-be-lover’s additional dinner companion is the highlight of the show.
And as ever-hopeful Irish lonely heart neighbor Bertie, Reed brightens the room at each of her entrances. Despite the mounting ridiculous tales of dates gone wrong, the actress continually injects a matter-of-fact optimism into her monologues and succeeds in winning us over to her unbelievably happy end.
Mikko ably supports his fellow performers. Playing a trifecta of not-ready-for-prime-time lotharios, the actor seems to have been given the mandate to continually jumpstart the proceedings with snorts, leers and an epic case of halitosis.
“The Human Buffet’s” acting hiccup belongs to its producer, Paulette Crain. Playing alcohol-addled cougar and novelist Ami, Crain appears as if she is in another production. Rather than following her two co-stars’ approach of deliberative ease, Crain throttles her performance as the pushy neighbor by mugging, telegraphing jokes and hitting punch lines harder than necessary.
It kills the pace and has the unintended effect of highlighting the flaws in the text. This moves the evening away from its strength of enjoying time spent with a collection of charming bachelorettes.
That being said, Crain is to be applauded for producing new work. Nothing has been skimped on. Each production element has been given loving care, and a deep investment of the heart is on display.
Most importantly, the producers have given a budding playwright an opportunity to see her work done at a level that most local writers have to scratch and claw to achieve.
If Crain is looking to create a profile for herself on the local theater scene, it might behoove her to turn her talents exclusively toward production. The city is in desperate need of women and men who have the skill set to bring fully realized theatrical entertainment to the stage. If she does that, Crain will discover she has more suitors than she can handle.