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Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Waiting Rituals

Theater Review

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Boulevard Ensemble Studio Theatre is fearless when it comes to pushing boundaries, thanks in large part to the creative vision of Artistic Director Mark Bucher. Sometimes it works, sometimes it's over the top, but it's always a wild, distinctive ride. Boulevard's season closer, Stations of the Cross, continues to move the company in yet another new direction in this original piece about life waiting tables.

The play is loosely tied to the Passion of Christ and the 15 Stations of the Cross as He moves from condemnation to Resurrection. Yep. That's right. Bucher commissioned local performer Beth Monhollen to write the 85-minute piece (no intermission) since many of the Boulevardians have waited tables and worked in various guises in the food service industry. Within the 15 monologues and interactive pieces, Stations of the Cross ably portrays a number of perspectives within "Café Boulevard," from the cutthroat aspects of new management to the kindly elderly customer who shows an interest in everyone's life and is missed by the servers when she's passed on.

Just like the religious ritual, songs are used to introduce various segments-in this case, for humorous effect, as in "Tip Low (and You Will Die)" to the music of "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot." While the monologues are often suffused with humor, it's actually some of the serious pieces that hold our attention. There's the tale of the "out" gay male waiter who finally works his way up to the number one station with big tables and bigger tippers, only to learn that the wealthy businessman "doesn't want Liberace" waiting on his group. Management yanks him immediately. Or the cumulative effects of alcoholism that take a toll on wait staff-and customers.

The eight-member ensemble works well within their various roles, and includes Bucher, Monhollen, Scott Dennis, Katie Merriman, Shemagne O'Keefe, Mia Shellenbarger, Kate Sherry and Paul Madden.

Stations of the Cross gets us to rethink just who it is that's taking our order. Certainly kindness matters-that and a big tip.

Runs through May 31.