It’s been 15 months since local audiences set foot inside a theater.
Pandemic-necessitated closures and restrictions limited performing arts organizations to streaming their shows online to remain active and connected to their patrons. Try as they might, though, that “style” of production is simply not a replacement for live, in-person theater.
With the availability of vaccines and the loosening of state- and county-mandated restrictions came the possibility of a return to live, indoor performances. The question was, “Who’s gonna take the first leap?”
The answer in the Bay Area is Santa Rosa’s Left Edge Theatre. Improved conditions led the company to make the decision to open their doors and invite audiences back inside. Originally planned as a filmed production, Wendy MacLeod’s Slow Food closes out their 2020/2021 season and marks the long-awaited return of some semblance of normalcy for the theater-going community.
There are still restrictions. Patrons must buy their tickets in advance; they must bring proof of full vaccination to the box office before they will be admitted—and the Theatre is enforcing this, as two parties were asked to return to a future performance after they failed to bring their vax cards; and patrons must remain masked through the entire performance.
The 72-seat theater is limiting capacity to 50% and encouraging distance between parties. The theater upgraded its HVAC system, implemented strict cleaning and disinfecting protocols, and eliminated concession sales. The entire company’s staff is vaccinated, as is the crew and cast—who perform unmasked, but remain at least six feet from the audience.
With all that in mind, 22 theater-starved people joined me on opening night to witness a three-dimensional performance. We were rewarded with laughs and perhaps the opportunity to see the footlight at the end of the tunnel.
Slow Food is a simple show. A middle-aged couple (Argo Thompson & Director Denise Elia-Yen) embark on an anniversary trip to Palm Springs. They arrive late, the only car available at the rental agency is basically a tank, the hot tub at their swanky resort is broken and the only place open to eat late on a Sunday night is a Greek restaurant staffed by Stephen (David L. Yen), the world’s worst waiter.
Based on a real-life experience, playwright MacLeod (The House of Yes) takes what is in essence an SNL sketch and expands it into a 90-minute, intermission-less play. There are laughs to be had among the conversations about spanakopita, salads, Sam Adams beer and a dead cat; along with a smidgeon of family drama as the two vacationers face a new stage in life as empty-nesters—all as the couple wait endlessly for their food to arrive.
The cast obviously had fun with the material, as did the audience. It’s basically a silly show that takes a silly premise and makes it sillier with silly accents, silly flirtations and silly situations.
Slow Food just may be the appetizer to hold us until main-course theatrical meals are served. Let’s just hope Stephen isn’t assigned to our table.
“Slow Food” runs live through June 13 at Left Edge Theatre. 50 Mark West Springs Rd., Santa Rosa. Fri–Sun, 7pm; Sun., 2pm. $45. Available for streaming June 15–20 for $15. 707.546.3600. leftedgetheatre.com