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A CurtainUp Review
Barbara's Blue Kitchen
By Julia Furay
As wholesome as a piece of apple pie, Barbara's Blue Kitchen could probably use some more spice. But it is nevertheless a fitting, sweet show to close the Lamb's Theatre before it's torn down to make way for a hotel.
The Lamb's has long been committed to producing new works which reflect hope, and true to form Barbara's Blue Kitchen cheerfully chronicles a day in the life of a small town diner. The play, which also features a likable country-tinged score, is written and performed by Lori Fischer. Though it feels like a musical and several of the characters have solo numbers, a good chunk of the score is incidenta so that it probably best fits the genre of play with music.
Fischer portrays Barbara, the diner proprietor, but also Barbara's waitress, customers, sister, boyfriend and nephew. The only other cast member is Scott Wakefield, the radio disc jockey whose show serves as a backdrop for the story. Actually there isn't all that much of a central storyline. What we have is a parade of characters, their foibles and their tragedies, often set to the Disc Jockey's music. Heartache is particularly prevalent, unsurprisingly so given the emphasis on country tunes Barbara's heartache is her yearning over the philandering local hairstylist. Jeanette, the clumsy new waitress, has just escaped an abusive boyfriend. Melissa, Barbara's volatile sister, has lost her man to another woman. Lonely old Tessie has also lost her boyfriend -- a fellow nursing home resident who died suddenly of botulism. Then there's Nurse Morris who is disgusted with the world in general.
The surprise given all these tales of woe is the can-do attitude permeating the world full of small town quirks Fischer and director Martha Banta have created via songs like "I Want My Kidney Back," and the way characters' lives constantly intermingle other's lives with a nosy flair. The dialogue is full of whimsey as when Barbara cheerfully talks about how she loves the way her exploding bangs cover up her bald spot.
Fischer avoids condescending to the rustic cutesiness that often overwhelms this sort of small-town panorama.
With the exception of the disc jockey's songs and patter (he actually seems more like a town crier than a radio personality) this is a showcase for Fischer's talents. She's personable and compelling enough to keep us entertained through all the character switches though all the roles she takes on tend to strain her acting capabilities --for example, Jeanette is written as awkward and shy, but Fischer's onstage presence in that role is so nervous and twitchy that the performance comes off as affected, rather than honest. The same goes for Fischer's singing: although her voice is attractive, she's more at home singing for certain parts like Melissa and Nurse Morris than for others like 10-year-old Tommy Lee.
Overall, Fischer's writing contains enough nuances to compensate for some shortcomings in her performance. For anyone who likes their plays warm and gooey, Barbara's Blue Kitchen has enough rewards to justify a farewell visit to the Lambs Theater.
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