Nick Hall's "Eat Your Heart Out" is a natural for community or dinner theater--the play's settings are minimal, its action and laughs are nonstop, and only five players are required.
Those five actors must be excellent and versatile, and the play's farcical pacing demands that they and the director be adept and alert. Such is the case with the sharp and funny Plaza Players production, directed by Gary Lunn and now running through Aug. 3.
Accept it as true that at least half of the waiters in New York and Hollywood are struggling actors trying to support themselves between their "real" jobs (the rest are working on screenplays). "Eat Your Heart Out" is the story of one such actor, as he switches from one Manhattan restaurant to another, waiting for that big TV commercial, summer stock or soap opera break.
Charlie, played here by Alan Price, is bright, enthusiastic . . . and a bit chatty. When he isn't serving the patrons of his succession of eateries, he's talking to the audience. Sometimes when he ought to be serving, he's still talking. Some of the customers find him to be friendly and helpful; others are irritated by his inattentiveness to them.
Restaurant owners don't like their help taking time off for auditions, so Charlie is forced to change jobs frequently, moving from pretentious uptown cafes to a dockside dive and back as the play progresses: noteworthy is the Edgar Allen Poe-inspired Tintinnabulation, where customers summon help by ringing dinner bells and are likely to order amontillado.
The people Charlie meets are played by Linda Lacey, Jim Barker, Kathleen Hobson and Roldan Munoz in a variety of costumes, wigs and attitudes--here's where the actors get to really show off.
All are very funny indeed, with Lacey (last seen as the truck-stop waitress in "When You Coming Back, Red Ryder?") ranging from grand dame to Tugboat Annie, and Hobson segueing from ingenue to . . . well, that's not to be given away here, but it's one of the funniest scenes in the show.
Barker's transformations are amazing; he could be several different people entirely under those hairpieces, spectacles and outfits as he creates a harried businessman, construction worker and one of the fellows who can't get Charlie's attention in Tintinnabulation--with the expected, cacophonous results.
Munoz gets to shine too, perhaps most notably in his portrayal of an effete director of commercials.
The whole thing runs like an express train, with scenes changing as Charlie replaces tablecloths to denote that he's in a new restaurant. Evidently, though, the cast and production crew are teetotalers: the "Manhattan cocktails" on opening night looked like Coca-Cola, and the "Scotch and soda" more closely resembled lemonade.
While the story (such as it is) gets a little more serious in the second act, "Eat Your Heart Out" is basically lightweight, and doesn't suffer a moment for the fact.
* WHERE AND WHEN
"Eat Your Heart Out" continues Wednesday, Friday and Saturday nights through Aug. 3 at the Plaza Players' Theater, 34 N. Palm St. (in the Old Town Livery courtyard) in Ventura. All performances are at 8 p.m. Tickets are $6 on Wednesday, $7.50 on Friday, and $8.50 on Saturdays. For further information, call (805) 643-9460.