Is there anything as voyeristically tantalizing as sitting in a romantic, dimly lit restaurant and overhearing the juicy details of a developing courtship at the table next to you? What could be billed as culinary theater at its best, Jim McDermott’s brilliant and hilarious four-person comedy, staged with incredible flair and fluidity by Bruce Blair, simply takes over FIX, the cozy Sunset Boulevard Italian restaurant and bar, following the quest of Repete Johnson (J.P. Manoux) and his unrelenting pursuit of the fair Irene (Cathryn Michon).
Surrounded by an audience of well-sated diners (the audience is served before the play begins), the irrepressible but monumentally clumsy Repete simply bombards Irene with his passion. Observing this obtuse, comical courtship with increasing self-interest is Irene’s best friend, Madeline (Marlene Begg). Also appearing from time to time is the suave, real-life restaurateur, Fabio Conti, who serves as host for this evening of fine dining and high comedy.
Set in the here and now, playwright McDermott unfolds this tale of ardor in flashback as Irene arrives at FIX with Madeline, anxious to relate the history of the odd but fascinating courtship she has been experiencing with a man who first spotted her at the Beverly Center.
The past springs to life as Repete is seen and heard reciting a series of wildly verbose love letters, leading to a monumentally disastrous meeting for dinner at her place. As the two ladies finish their dessert, Madeline learns that Irene had an ulterior motive in bringing her to the restaurant, as the much-talked-about Repete makes his appearance.
Director Blair orchestrates this environmental comedy with a deft and imaginative touch, brilliantly utilizing almost the whole area of FIX Restaurant , as well as the street outside, which is conveniently in full view of the audience due to the almost complete wall of windows that fronts the restaurant. He even manages to include a very effective rainstorm, thanks to the well-timed gushing of a garden hose.
McDermott’s wildly comical dialogue always sounds realistic and plausible coming from this very talented cast. Michon is wonderfully coy and controlled as the manipulative Irene, who knows exactly what to do with the unbridled yearnings of her suitor. And Begg is thoroughly believable as the mildly amused friend whose interest and passions become more tangibly involved as the evening moves on.
Combining the vocal mannerisms of Miles Silverberg (of “Murphy Brown” fame) with the single-minded intensity of Don Quixote, Manoux turns in a virtuoso performance as the bumbling but irrepressible Repete. His riotous physical self-destruction at Irene’s apartment would do credit to Peter Sellers and Jacques Tati.
Conti adds to the hilarity of the evening just by his ability to ignore the doings of these strange patrons.