Home Play Theater Cameron Page on Caroline’s Kitchen

Cameron Page on Caroline’s Kitchen

Cameron Page on Caroline’s Kitchen


L-R: Caroline Langrishe, Tom England in CAROLINE’S KITCHEN. Photo by Sam Taylor

The lights come up on the title character in the title setting.  Caroline is in her Kitchen.  She is being filmed by a camera crew in rehearsal for an episode of her very popular British TV cooking show. 
In rapid succession, we meet an entire solar system of planets that orbit Caroline (played elegantly by Caroline Langrishe): her assistant Amanda (Jasmyn Banks), her college-age son Leo (Tom England), and her general contractor and carpenter Graeme (James Sutton).
Caroline’s Kitchen, written by Torben Betts, is a 90-minute play that takes place over 90 extremely significant minutes in Caroline’s life.  The plot is a bit sluggish at first: in the first 20 minutes we spend a lot of time with Caroline’s assistant Amanda, but this is a bit of a head fake by the playwright, because the true conflict in the play lies with the carpenter who is lurking quietly by the cabinets.
Subplot #1 involves Caroline’s son Leo wanting to come out as gay to his father.  Caroline already knows the Leo is gay and has for years.  He has been pushing her to inform his father, and today upon graduation from University he has decided to take the plunge.
But the tension around Leo’s struggle to come out as gay seems unearned – or maybe that’s a sign of how far the gay rights movement has come.  Leo’s father Mike comes across as a somewhat lecherous but basically liberal man, and it’s hard to believe Leo’s agony over revealing his sexual identity.
Caroline is portrayed here as an incredible narcissist – shallow, self-centered, and obsessed with her image.  We all have some of these qualities, of course, and Caroline is meant to be a relatable version of this type of person.  But when she is almost pathologically unable to pay attention to her suffering son, I found her intolerable.  Her distraction, contrasted with his need for attention, is supposed to be amusing, but unfortunately, it pulled me away from her character.
What we initially think of as Subplot #2 involves Caroline’s dalliance with her carpenter Graeme.  This minor storyline quickly grows up and swallows the main plot, which makes for an enjoyable and surprising change in direction, and keeps the audience on their toes. 
This is a play that seems to struggle with what it wants to be.  I glimpsed its heart most clearly in the final five minutes, when Director Alastair Whatley expertly navigates the characters into a spinning whirligig of chaos, hijinks, and yes even some true pathos, thanks to a great performance by Graeme’s wife Sally (Elizabeth Boag).
There is a truly surprising ending that is both out of place for the style of play, but somehow also perfectly earned and justified based on the moral universe that the play has created.  This final chaotic section of the play, which is the most full of life and passion, reminded me of other great screwball comedies like Noises Off by Michael Frayn (and of course, um, lots of Shakespeare plays).
But earlier in the production, the direction feels overly stiff and proper.  Characters are introduced precisely one by one, almost as though being announced onto the stage by a man in a tuxedo.  Although characters speak over each other in a way that is meant to be naturalistic, the formalistic style still suggests this play wants to be restrained, dry-witted, proper. 
The strength of a chaotic slamming-doors comedy lies in its actors, how they take the witty lines and odd situations and make us feel the truth of the impossibly strange situations.  The actor who does this best is Aden Gillette as Caroline’s husband Mike.  He barrels in with a golf bag and booming machine gun of a voice and quickly injects the production with endorphins (a concept that he immediately references, although his endorphins refer to a great golf shot).  
The set is meticulously appointed by James Perkins and this goes far in capturing the upper-class lifestyle of Caroline and her family.  The lighting and sound design are essential for the huge thunderstorm that takes place toward the end of the play, and Christ Withers and Max Pappenheim do an excellent job maximizing the emotional impact of these effects.
Caroline’s Kitchena
Written by Torben Betts, directed by Alastair Whatley
Produced by Original Theatre Company, Ghost Light Theatre & Eilene Davidson for Brits Off Broadway at 59E59 Theaters
Thursday, April 25 – Saturday, May 25
Tickets available at https://www.59e59.org
Caroline: Caroline Langrishe
Amanda: Jasmyn Banks
Graeme: James Sutton
Leo: Tom England
Mike: Aden Gillett
Sally: Elizabeth Boag
Creative Team
Director: Alastair Whatley
Design: James Perkins
Lighting: Chris Withers
Music & Sound Design: Max Pappenheim
Associate Sound Design: Richard Bell
Casting: Ellie Collyer-Bristow Cdg
Fight Director: Jeremy Barlow
Stage Manager: Taylor Mankowski
Company Stage Manager: Felix Dunning
Deputy Stage Manager: Chloe Walker
Assistant Stage Manager: Jenny Wood
Costume Supervisor: Flora Moyes
Cameron Page has worked as an actor, freelance writer, and Kaplan test prep teacher.  He welcomes all your questions and trolling, find him @cameronpage

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