Haas (left), Dennis Sullivan, Carrie Hebert and Jon Fancher
star in “An Empty Plate in the Café du Grand Boeuf,” now playing
at the Clague Playhouse through Feb. 4. (Photo courtesy of Clague
Playhouse serves empty plate farce
By Art Thomas
Published Jan. 24, 2007
full title of the current production at Clague Playhouse is “An
Empty Plate in the Café du Grand Boeuf.”
A farce that tries to be many other things, this show is
far off the beaten path, and one that you’ll probably not see elsewhere.
In Paris, The Café du Grand Boeuf has only one customer—its
owner. A complete staff is on duty for the infrequent visits of
the boss, who is just returning from an overseas trip. On this particular
night, maitre d’ Claude is particularly worked up. The young busboy
has gone to a competing restaurant down the street, and the new
one, Antoine, is barely trained.
When owner/customer Victor arrives, he is alone. Where
is mademoiselle? Apparently the relationship is over, and Victor
decides to starve himself to death. Frustrated chef Gaston and server
Mimi convince him to go through the eight course meal with all of
the food left in the kitchen. Only empty plates will be brought
out, and if he is sufficiently tempted to eat, Victor has only to
say the word and they will bring out the real food.
That’s the framework of “Empty Plate.” Playwright
Michael Hollinger offers much more for the audience to consider
in the play. The setting of the play must be 1961; there are lots
of references to Jackie Kennedy and her distinctive and influential
sense of style. For those with a literary interest, the walls of
the café have material related to Ernest Hemingway and bullfighting.
In fact, both Hemingway’s suicide and the death of the bull in the
ring come into this show as well.
“Empty Plate” left me cold. There are lots of funny
lines, and the absurdity of the situation set me giggling at times.
When new busboy Antoine sits in a corner folding innumerable dozens
of napkins one can’t help but laugh. I object to the layers of pseudo-psychological
discourse the author tries to inspire.
Director Ron Newell has a strong cast. Dennis Sullivan
has an arsenal of deadpan stares as starving Victor. Jon Fancher
as Claude revels in his descriptions of the intricate dishes that
await just beyond the swinging door. Temperamental chef Gaston is
played with an intense fury by Craig Stadden. Carrie Hebert as Miss
Berger, Margy Haas as Mimi, and Eric Fanccher as note-taking Antoine
complete the cast.
The set is a good representation of an art nouveau
café past its prime. The show’s structure, presented without intermission,
is appropriate for its content. The preview audience I saw the play
with, through the courtesy of director Ron Newell, enjoyed themselves.
There were hearty guffaws throughout the show, and even the children
enjoyed the slapstick that dots the first half of the show.
“An Empty Plate in the Café du Grand Boeuf” runs through