There is no denying the relevance of a play about the failure of humanitarian relief efforts and about the diplomats so blinded by privilege as to be clueless about those they would help. But, Jeni Mahoney's ambitious "The Feast of the Flying Cow and Other Stories of War" can't decide on its tone: absurd one minute, cloying the next.

There is no denying the relevance of a play about the failure of humanitarian relief efforts and about the misguided diplomats so blinded by privilege as to be utterly clueless about those they would help. But, sliding downhill from act one’s satire to act three’s sentimentality, Jeni Mahoney’s ambitious “The Feast of the Flying Cow and Other Stories of War” can’t decide on its tone: absurd one minute, cloying the next. The title is derived from the folk saying that war will end when cows fly.

In some war-torn place (take your pick, although the names, clothes and vodka suggest Eastern Europe), in some bombed-out apartment with only one beet and a teaspoon of sugar left, with dead Aunt Rosa in the next room and the pet dog driven off to save him from famished neighbors, in walks the U.S. ambassador’s wife, Audrey (Catharine K. Slusar). Dropped off by a tank, she has come to the home of Anya (Emmanuelle Delpech-Ramey) to deliver bags of food for a dinner party (complete with silver napkin rings), “courtesy of the Free World.” Remarkably, given the opportunities for caricature, both Delpech-Ramey and Slusar turn in finely shaded performances.

Despite having not eaten for days, nobody touches a single bite of the food while Audrey poses them for photos against backdrops “scientifically engineered to inspire sympathy.” When Anya’s husband, Izak (Matt Saunders), asks for news of the world, Audrey replies, “Ties are narrower and taupe is the new beige.” The ludicrousness of this collision of the haves with the have-nots has no more venom than a Jay Leno routine.

We learn that, during the first intermission, soldiers have broken in, raped Anya and taken all the food. Audrey, who has a gun, didn’t shoot them since her directive was to use it only in self-defense.

Although Audrey finally winds up less dependent than she was (radicalized more by her husband’s offering $10 for her ransom than by the mayhem), and although the ambassador (Tom Byrn) proves himself a fool once again, accidentally shooting an upstairs neighbor whom they will cook into a stew, by act three nothing has really happened except that dead Rosa (Martha Kemper) revives and gives Audrey a “pay it forward” necklace. Izak and Anya decide to have a baby. Hope, it would seem, is a cow with feathers.

Seth Rozin’s direction involves much choreographed farce that should be funny but oddly isn’t. The script wants to have both its earnest optimism and its cannibalism, too.

The Feast of the Flying Cow and Other Stories of War

Adrienne Theater, Philadelphia; 106 seats; $25 top

Production

An InterAct Theater Company presentation of a play in three acts by Jeni Mahoney. Directed by Seth Rozin.

Creative

Sets, Jorge Cousineau; costumes, Karen Ledger; lighting, Peter Whinnery; sound, Cousineau; fight director, John V. Bellomo; production stage manager, Sara May. Opened Oct. 26. Reviewed Oct. 30. Running time: 2 HOURS, 5 MIN.

Cast

Anya - Emmanuelle Delpech-Ramey Audrey - Catharine K. Slusar Izak - Matt Saunders Rosa - Martha Kemper Niles - Tom Byrn
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