New York City Theater
Food is love. But can it buy happiness? In Samuel D. Hunter’s perceptive “Pocatello,” restaurant manager Eddie plies friends and family with huge platters of pasta, trying to capture their affection or at least their attention. After all, it is “Famiglia Week” at this Olive Garden-type Idaho eatery so why not mend wounds and reach out helping hands, especially when the place seems on the verge of collapse?
Hunter, author of the spot-on “The Whale,” the tale of an obese man who fatally packs away the calories, has more on his mind than food. Eddie’s generosity and neediness stand out like beacons in a dying city that has, like much of America, been mauled by malls. Cold big box enterprises maim not only the landscape but lives.
In a twist on an enduring American theme, making it just isn’t enough anymore, not when you’re about to be crushed by indifference and facelessness. Not only Eddie but his employees and their extended relatives are helpless to avoid being sucked into the great maw of commercialism. That the characters themselves are irritating, reflecting the environment, is a signal that no cure may be possible.
Prototypically, everyone is dysfunctional: Eddie’s father is dead, a suicide, and his relationship with Doris, his querulous mother, is prickly not only because she cannot accept his being gay, she rejects his food. His brother, Nick, has moved away, escaped really, along with his protective sister-in-law, Kelly. As for his wait staff, Max is a stoner, Isabelle is languid, taking life as it comes, and Troy is on the brink of divorce from Tammy, his alcoholic wife, while also having to deal with his own father, Cole, who has dementia.
Further, Troy and Tammy have a daughter, Becky, who becomes literally sick at the idea of eating animals or anything that might have been tainted with pesticides. Ironically, she turns out to be, along with Eddie who takes her in, the one other character who refuses to knuckle under to an irresponsible society.
It’s not a pleasant group; leading lives of quiet desperation, they’re products of a world controlled by corporations. “I don’t have a family anymore,” says Eddie. “I don’t know where I live anymore.”
The sentiments may sound familiar, and the evening seems thin, but the play stimulates nods of the head, as directed by Davis McCallum with a sure sense of rhythm. The accomplished cast is headed by T.R. Knight, who gives an appealing, gutsy performance as the damaged but undefeated Eddie.
Except for Nick and Kelly, who have moved away, Hunter’s people have nowhere to go, trapped in this generic restaurant (impressively designed by Lauren Helpern). Even the piped-in Italian music is filled with static.
--David A. Rosenberg
Dec. 27, 2014