Review: ‘Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner’

Homemaker Minerva (Diane Rodriguez) immediately confronts the Taper, Too with her compulsive desire for food, and director Michael John Garces physicalizes her obesity by dressing her in a symbolic hula hoop in Luis Alfaro's "Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner." Rodriguez offers animated expressions and a humorously eccentric delivery that gives this opening monologue an appealing quirkiness.

Homemaker Minerva (Diane Rodriguez) immediately confronts the Taper, Too with her compulsive desire for food — Hostess cupcakes, Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, Frito Lay chips — and director Michael John Garces physicalizes her obesity by dressing her in a symbolic hula hoop in Luis Alfaro’s “Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner.” Rodriguez, impressive in the Mark Taper Forum’s “Living Out,” offers animated expressions and a humorously eccentric delivery that gives this opening monologue an appealing quirkiness. But the speech is too lengthy and ushers in a sluggishly paced, unevenly constructed comedy-drama that patronizes people with weight problems and resolves its conflicts with soap opera banalities.

The steadily expanding Minerva confides her anxieties to Al (Winston J. Rocha), her amiable, beer-drinking couch potato husband. Well-meaning Al clumsily advises his wife to “stop being embarrassed and start feeling ashamed,” so she can feel upset and guilty enough to conquer her mammoth appetite. Her sister Alice (Rose Portillo) tries to be sympathetic, but she has her own obsession — sex — as exemplified by a frenzied affair with police officer Freddie Fernandez (Michael Manuel). “Don’t forget to bring the handcuffs,” Alice tells Freddie, as they grapple wildly until Alice confesses that her prior existence was “a kind of living that just involved my lower parts.” As Alice recognizes growing love for her commitment-shy cop, Minerva’s weight balloons astronomically.

Against Christopher Acebo’s all-green set pieces — forest-green bedspread, avocado chairs, lime green dinette set (a color that subliminally suggests nausea from overeating), Minerva’s potentially fatal weight gain is monotonously charted by Al, who periodically announces that his wife can no longer fit into a car, a plane, restaurant booth or movie theater. Few of these bulletins are funny or dramatic enough, especially since we never see Minerva bingeing, and the tone grows increasingly tasteless and sour. “What if she pops like a balloon?” asks Alice, a question that lacks painful resonance because Rodriguez’s Minerva only talks of obesity but rarely suggests it in her walk, actions or movements. Nevertheless, she becomes so enormous that she begins, fancifully, to float, rising higher and higher in the air. Speculations about this bizarre phenomenon are sketchy. More frustrating is the script’s lack of insight into her self-destructive journey, with little grasp of psychological traumas that trigger non-stop gorging.

Minerva’s liberating elevation supposedly helps her to see life clearly, prompting such remarks to Al as “you know, we act like Canada — big and clean and boring,” and finally urging him to say “I love you.” Since Al has been a caring husband, it doesn’t seem like a revelatory step for him to mouth sentimental cliches and discover feelings that were evident from the start.

Delightfully portrayed by Portillo and Manuel, Alice and Freddie are a far more involving pair. In spite of trite dialogue (“What are you running from?” and “Your days of being a little boy are over”), both actors convey the fumbling terror of two damaged souls who want to connect emotionally and have no idea how to achieve it. Amusingly dressed by Christal Weatherly in gold latex underwear, inarticulate Freddie comically puts across the extremes of passion with “You make watching cable seem boring” and “You make jerking off not so fulfilling,” provoking laughter and sympathy at the same time. Alice’s decision to confront her lover after he leaves her has a strength and intensity missing from Minerva’s aimless musings.

Effective use of that indigestible lump of musical sugar, “Feelings,” has a satiric bite, but “Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner” is a middle-of-the-road meal that rarely excites or stings the palate.

Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner

Taper, Too at the Ivy Substation; 99 seats; $20 top

Production

A Center Theater Group/Mark Taper Forum presentation of the world premiere of a play in two acts by Luis Alfaro. Directed by Michael John Garces. Set, Christopher Acebo; costumes, Christal Weatherly; lighting, Geoff Korf; sound, Nathan Birnbaum; production stage manager, David S. Franklin. Opened and reviewed April 3, 2003; closes April 27. Running time, 1 HOUR, 55 MIN.

Cast

Minerva - Diane Rodriguez Alice - Rose Portillo Al - Winston J. Rocha Officer Fernandez - Michael Manuel
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