In the heat of the moment, a wife asks her husband why they can’t just be honest with each other and discuss how they really feel. “What kind of life would that be?” the husband responds, incredulous. This exchange tells you all you really need to know about the characters in Blueberry Toast, a world premiere dark comedy by Mary Laws currently being presented by the Echo Theater Company in Los Angeles.
This play takes place in an idyllic, brightly colored, aggressively sunny suburban kitchen—a tableau straight out of Stepford. We meet Walt (Albert Dayan) and Barb (Jacqueline Wright), a married couple who seem perfect for all of about 30 seconds before the cracks in their carefully constructed facade of a life begin to show. It’s a Sunday morning, and Barb, who is equal parts forced enthusiasm, excessive politeness, and barely controlled rage, wants to make her husband any breakfast he wants. Walt says he would like blueberry toast, and she prepares him some—regular toast with blueberries (mixed with syrup and lemon) on top. Walt is baffled—he asked for blueberry pancakes. Since both the audience and Barb know that he most certainly did not, the mood immediately shifts as everyone realizes this couple is not even a tenth as happy as they pretend to be.
Walt is an almost immediately unlikeable guy. He is arrogant and unsatisfied by every aspect of his life—he’s a poetry teacher who hates poetry (he has new aspirations of “getting into oil” instead), he feels he married beneath him, and he has begun to spend more time at the neighbors’ house, specifically with a certain female neighbor, which has not gone unnoticed by Barb. He is delusional to the point where when he says he asked for blueberry pancakes, you believe he actually believes that. Barb, while clearly a bit unhinged, is definitely the easier to root for of the two, although by the end of the play, I couldn’t help but feel like maybe they deserved each other. Dayan and Wright both give strong performances in brutal roles that require a real commitment to getting dirty, both literally and figuratively.
As Walt and Barb’s drama unfolds, they are occasionally interrupted by their young children, who are literally named Jack (Michael Sturgis) and Jill (Alexandra Freeman). Jack and Jill are writing a four-act play, and pop in throughout the morning whenever they are ready to show their oblivious parents a new act. These imaginative, hilarious sequences were highlights of the piece—the performances and subject matter rang true as something precocious children would create, and Sturgis and Freeman (both adults) gave standout performances. Sturgis in particular had impeccable comedic timing, as well as spot-on reactions and facial expressions.
The tone of Blueberry Toast is rather intentionally odd and off-putting. What begins as a satirical examination of suburban life quickly devolves into tragedy and an exploration of people’s animalistic instincts. Don’t let the picturesque set fool you—this play is violent, dark, and definitely for mature audiences. It also featured the most unique lobby warning sign I’ve ever seen, informing patrons that real eggs and nut products will be used on stage in case of allergies. And, to further that warning, most of the eggs end up everywhere but Barb’s mixing bowl. On that note, both Dustin Wills’s direction and Ahmed Best’s fight choreography are impressive in a play with visceral and complicated staging and action.
Ultimately, I felt the absurdity of the story went a few steps too far in the end. For a play that began as smart satire and had the audience in stitches, the over-the-top ending sucked all of the fun and realism out of it in a way I personally found disappointing. For better or for worse, there is something normal and even relatable about these characters—people like Walt and Barb surely exist in every suburban town—but only to an extent. As the action gets more and more extreme, you can’t help but lose the feeling that these characters are real people in a real situation, which ultimately lessens the impact of the shocking ending. One thing is for sure, though—all the talk of breakfast food will definitely make you hungry.
Blueberry Toast runs at the Atwater Village Theater through October 24th with performances Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 4pm, and select Mondays at 8pm. Tickets are $30 and can be purchased at www.echotheatercompany.com.