The Food Chain Through April 4; Thursday-Saturday, 7 p.m.; Sunday, 2 p.m.; $20-$25. Onyx Theatre, 702-732-7225.
There’s a scene from a popular episode of Friends where someone says to the formerly overweight Monica, “Easy on those cookies ... Remember, they’re just food, they’re not love.” Monica’s next move is to hurl a cookie at his back.
She does this partly because there’s truth in his insult. A lot of us eat when we’re bored, when we’re sad, when we’re happy—in other words, for reasons that have nothing to do with actually being hungry. These very real emotional needs and their relationship to food take center stage in Nicky Silver’s The Food Chain, now playing at the Onyx Theatre. But while this psychologically nuanced subject can be serious, don’t expect anything but well-executed comic dialogue served with a side of less-interesting slapstick from this production.
Told in three scenes, The Food Chain opens strong with Amanda (Diana Osborn) crying, smoking and doing anything she can to distract herself from the fact that her new husband has been missing for three weeks. The scene really gets going when she calls Anita Bean’s Bea, an older Jewish lady whose hilarious barbs and spotty track record make it clear she doesn’t belong at a crisis hotline (her most recent caller dove to his death after talking to her). Their back and forth runs the gamut, from Amanda’s tragic journey through an alienating New York City to her rants on gender inequality as exemplified by handbags. Bea is the perfect cynical counterpoint to Amanda’s melodramatic poet, but Osborn deserves the lion’s share of praise for the entire production. She convincingly plays an articulate and over-educated woman on the edge whose neuroses are as smart as they are funny.
This is partly why, when we get to a second scene that takes a cue from Chris Farley and a long line of funny fat men throwing and spitting food, the audience is bound to get whiplash. But the big man here, Stephen R. Sisson, does an admirable job with the part he’s handed, as does his partner, Aaron Barry. They never once crack an inappropriate smile, even in the face of the absurdity of a floor full of Fruit Loops.
By the time the entire cast is united in the third scene, however, the yelling and food throwing become a bit over the top, and you find yourself craving more of the first scene’s wittier dialogue. Then again, this has less to do with Sarah O’Connell’s good direction and the cast’s good acting, and more to do with the herky-jerky tempo of the play itself. Nicky Silver’s brand of buffet-style comedy may not be for everyone, but if you’re hungry for an uncomplicated night’s entertainment and a free snack, The Food Chain is being served through April 4.