Scott Greer shows once again why he's considered one of Philly's foremost actors with a sensational performance in How To Use A Knife, a powerful workplace drama from Will Snider (Extinction, Sundowners) now through June 18 at InterAct Theatre Company's performance space at the Drake in Center City.
A tragicomic psychodrama about the various ways men avoid dealing with loss, violence, and tragedy, Snider's powerful drama is set entirely in the kitchen of a Manhattan eatery, a space fraught with tension and populated by an international cast of characters – the cooks are from Guatemala, the dishwasher from West Africa, and the busboy from the wealthy suburbs.
Greer, a five-time Barrymore Award winner whose previous InterAct credits include Lebensraum and It's All True, plays George, a hot-tempered, sometimes despotic chef recently hired to take charge of the kitchen.
But this isn't exactly a Michelin-rated restaurant, and George is hardly a rising star. He's a has-been, a broken-down, middle-aged man whose appetite for booze and drugs all but ended his once-brilliant career.
Snider devotes the first half of How to Use a Knife to set the scene and establish his characters. George, we learn, has taken some time to clean himself up, and he has been given a new chance to run a kitchen thanks to restaurant owner Michael.
Portrayed by Jered McLenigan (Ritu Comes Home at InterAct) in a brilliantly comic turn, the restaurateur is a sleazy womanizer who cares far more about profit than culinary excellence.
Meanwhile, there's much comic buffoonery involving the two Guatemalan sous-chefs, Carlos (J Hernandez, Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre's Othello) and Miguel (Angel Sigala, My Favorite Husbands at Quince Productions), and the skinny stoner busboy Jack (Trevor William Fayle, Lost Girls at Theatre Exile).
George rages on, screaming down the house every time there's another prank or bit of hijinks. He's a man so full of rage you start wondering whether there might be more to his story.
Throughout all the craziness and the comedy and the rage, one man continues to work in tranquillity: the middle-aged dishwasher Steve (Lindsay Smiling, A Midsummer Night's Dream at Arden Theatre). Here he is, this man in his 40s or 50s, barely eking out a living in New York, and yet he seems utterly satisfied, even happy. His equanimity stuns George, and they begin to form a bond.
It's difficult to say more about Steve without giving away too many spoilers. He comes to George's kitchen from the killing fields of Rwanda, where he saw untold atrocities. Scarred by years of deprivation and war, he seems to have found peace. His serenity is quite beautiful, seductive. And he tells George he's willing to teach him how to let go of his own rage.
How to Use a Knife left me a little confused – but wanting more. I am not entirely comfortable with the equivalence Snider seems to draw between George's personal emotional trauma and the degradation suffered by those affected by the Rwandan genocide. Surely this is satire. Isn't the play an attack on how our obsession with our emotional problems has made us blind to the suffering that continues to go on around the globe? The play's ending may not be entirely satisfying, but it will force you to confront some of your assumptions.