Just back of where I live, there’s a trendy little restaurant named Ecco. There’s a side street behind the restaurant where you can look directly into the kitchen from your car. I’ve been mildly stunned more than once by the frenetic activity going on inside.
Inside the upscale dining room are customers casually enjoying their drinks and hors d’oeuvres; in the kitchen, controlled frenzy.
Cut to the Horizon Theatre’s current dynamic production of Will Snider’s play “How to Use a Knife,” set in a Wall Street kitchen which prepares burgers, steaks, and fries for its ambitious customers. The young playwright has spent time working in a New York restaurant; he also lived and worked in East Africa for three years after getting a degree at Columbia University. He obviously gets around. His play here runs through June 25.
Back to the kitchen. Horizon has a continuing commitment to offer plays that connect us to the global community; there is no better place to discover the hodgepodge of humanity than a New York restaurant’s kitchen. Currently playing the fifth city (Atlanta) on its National New Play Network Rolling Premiere, “How to Use a Knife” cuts across all lines of diversity and demographics.
We have Chef George (Brian Kurlander), a recovering alcoholic/addict, whose bossy, strident ways mask a low self-esteem which becomes clearer as the play progresses. He knows his business, however, having worked in far fancier places; this job is a second chance. Mr. Kurlander’s own personal charm saves this character from being an angry bore; his is a fine performance. In fact, the entire excellent cast elevates a play that is energetic and entertaining but somewhat uneven.
It doesn’t hurt that the esteemed Atlanta actress Carolyn Cook is the director; she finds different levels of volume, pace, and pitch that are most welcome. It would be easy—and deleterious—to play this work on one note.
In the kitchen is Steve (LaParee Young), the taciturn (for awhile) dishwasher from Uganda; Steve has a past that is unsettling and scary; he and George strike up a symbiotic relationship. Steve will show George how to meditate and relax (something he greatly needs), and George will show Steve the culinary fine arts, using a sharp knife for food preparation.
The youngest of the staff is the busboy/server Jack (Jeremiah Parker Hobbs), looking fresh and privileged and just out of college. He lets it be known that he is merely passing through and likes to tease Carlos (Tony Guerrero) and Miguel (Orlando Carbajal Rebollar), Guatemalan line cooks, by pointing out his shiny Caucasian whiteness, since one of them is an illegal immigrant (gasp). Miguel only speaks Spanish but appears to understand English perfectly.
All three of these actors bring a refreshing levity to the piece (even when Jack is shouting “Where are my customers’ wine glasses?”) to Steve. Mr. Hobbs has become an increasingly accomplished comic actor (though he can do serious stuff, also); he projects a joie de vivre that is most welcome and well-nigh irresistible.
The owner of the restaurant is Michael (Brad Brinkley), who has attitude and affluence aplenty; there is also an ICE (U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement) agent named Kim (Cynthia D. Barker) who brings some serious business to the kitchen; you will have to discover what that is.
There is definitely a dark side to this comedy/drama which I can’t talk about without being a spoiler. There is a cacophonous, emotional denouement primarily involving George that’s effective but a trifle extended. It will definitely get your attention. The play has some spicy language.
Playwright Snider once said that “theatre has an obligation to enthrall.” I agree. He almost, but not quite, reaches it here. I do think he has quite a future.
You can thank this stellar cast for a very engaging, sometimes exhilarating, evening. It goes without saying that Moriah and Isabel Curley-Clay have created a perfect set. I think they may have peeked in that Ecco kitchen window themselves.
For tickets and information, visit horizontheatre.com.