A well-crafted theatre review should contain a hint of plot, introductions to the characters, and evaluations of the performances, direction, and stagecraft. This is all to give a potential audience member some idea what they can expect to experience should they spend some of their hard-earned money on a ticket with the caveat that each performance of a production is unique. Well, some performances are unique-er than others and yes, I know that’s not a real word.
Avery Crozier’s Eat the Runt, Left Edge Theatre’s current live streaming production, makes a complete review damn near impossible. Why? Well, per the author’s instructions, the cast changes with every performance and neither they nor their director gets to choose who plays what role. The audience chooses. What that means is I could wax poetic about one particular performance and, depending on the whim of future audiences, that actor may never play that character again.
The first 20 minutes of the show are spent with the ensemble of eight (Dodds Delzell, Serena Elize Flores, Beth Henry, Corey Jackson, Chandler Parrott Thomas, Angela Squire, Brandon Wilson, and Maron Zuckerman) auditioning for the individual roles. The audience is given the characters’ names (they are gender-neutral) and a very short bio of each. The audience is provided nothing with regard to a character’s race, gender, age, or orientation. The actors each repeat a line of dialogue attributed to a specific character and an audience poll is taken to determine who gets the role. This continues until a single actor remains as there are only seven roles. That actor sulks off and the show begins.
Plot-wise, Eat the Runt is pretty simple. It’s a job interview. That’s it. “Merritt” is applying for a position as a Grants Manager at a big city Art Museum and he/she/they must go through a series of interviews. Times being what they are, for the purposes of this production the interviews are conducted via Zoom. It’s an adjustment that actually works pretty well for this show abetted by one key directorial decision by Argo Thompson. The actors are not “speaking” to their device camera. Well, they are, but it’s not the angle we see. A second camera shoots from an audience’s perspective and that’s the angle we see. It plays infinitely better than if each character addressed “us” instead of addressing each other.
Five of the seven of the eight cast members of Eat the Runt.
And so the interviews go, from the Human Resources person to various managers, trustees, curators and directors. Lest you think this is a somewhat genteel look at the work place à la The Office or Office Space, know that in the first interview the topics of discussion include hemorrhoids, anal sex, and dildos. I don’t remember any of those subjects coming up in any job interviews I underwent over the last few decades (even the second or third interview), but it has been a while. While getting those out of the way early makes a later discussion about Jesus’s foreskin slightly less shocking, this show may not be to everyone’s taste.
If it hasn’t been made clear this is a comedy, then let me state so now. This is an outrageous comedy with a strong undercurrent of social commentary. By writing characters and dialogue that are non-specific in every way, Crozier brings front and center the reality that who we say things to often colors how we say things, what we mean, and how we are interpreted. The question we are asked to face is “Why?” A line of dialogue between a man and a woman one night takes on an entirely different meaning when it’s between two men, or individuals of different races or orientations on another night. Pronouns are only used once in the show, and even in that instance they’re used as more of a question than a statement of a person’s being.
It’s a fascinating and amusing exercise that works both the actors and the audience. Thankfully, the usual Zoom glitches were kept to a minimum with the most somewhat-amusingly-intrusive a mid-show chat message from a wayward audience member. I still think comedy is at a real disadvantage on Zoom and there were moments that the timing seemed a bit off (whether that was at the actor’s end, or mine, or both will be one of the great mysteries of the Zoom theatre age) but, on the whole, the diverse ensemble did a good job of generating laughs. The entire cast has proved their comedy mettle time-and-time again in numerous North Bay productions and seem to relish the opportunity to do so once again.
The show (with the “auditions”) comes in at a little under two hours which includes a ten-minute intermission. While I find Zoom theatre productions with shorter running times infinitely more tolerable than those that push the two-hour mark, the “audition” segment is really separate from the show itself which consists of two breezy forty-minute acts.
The show is twenty years old (and some outdated references have been tweaked) but the issues addressed in the play through the script and the approach to casting continue to challenge us. Left Edge’s Eat the Runt provides a unique(er) and entertaining way of looking at them.
But you won’t see the show that I saw.
‘Eat the Runt” live streams through May 9. Fri & Sat 7:00 pm, Sun 2 pm. Tickets $30.
On-Demand streaming available May 10 – 23. Tickets $15. leftedgetheatre.com