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A World Premiere Play by Robert Askins

Rite of Passage Theatre Company

Directed by Cassie Bann
Set and Costume Design ? Christopher Eastland
Original Music ? Justin Locklear and Deanna Valone
Original Puppets ? Rite of Passage Executive Ensemble
Stage Manager ? Nic McMinn


Adrian Churchill ? Eddie
Whitney Holotik ? Billy
Chris Ramirez ? Nico and Oyster 1
Elizabeth Evans ? Amuse-Bouche, Oyster 2 and Souffle
Adam Garst ? Oyster 3 and Ravioli

Deanna Valone ? guitar
Justin Locklear ? guitar and vibraphone

Reviewed Performance: 7/23/2011

Reviewed by Mary L. Clark, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN

Ever eat a wonderfully rich meal, drink a bit too much wine, then tumble off to bed and have visions of the food singing and dancing in your head? Do you still love and laugh, watching talking vegetables and fruit sing on Sesame Street? If you're also addicted to a good love story and The Food Network, Rite of Passage Theatre Company opens their theatre doors, presenting the world premiere of Love Song of the Albanian Sous Chef by Robert Askins.

Taking place in the restaurant of Eddie the sous chef, this is a tender sweet and funny one act that leaves us hungry for even a morsel of the love he feels for waitress Billy. Finding a better job, this is her last day; the last day Eddie has to declare himself. Knowing that food can represents love he plans an elaborate seven course meal for her after they close. Too shy to serve the food himself, he has crass busboy, Nico, present the first dish. Oblivious to Eddie's affection, as she finishes closing up she nonchalantly lifts the cloth off the first course ? and the soup speaks to her! Alarmed but curious, the soup persuades Billy to taste it and she is instantly enthralled by its amazing flavor and texture.

Eager for the second course, Nico brings on a large platter with lid and when lifted receives three huge oysters ? that begin to sing songs about her and about eating them ? which she does with great relish. The next course is more sumptuous than the last and Billy is intoxicated by the food and by the extent to which Eddie has prepared all this for her.

Buoyed by her acceptance of his love offerings, Eddie brings out the entr?e including heart of lamb, dishes of his impoverished childhood, virtually bearing his soul with his food. Overwhelmed by Eddie's gastronomical gifts and more accustomed to the crude advances of the kitchen staff men, Billy feels threatened and uncomfortable with Eddie for the first time. His souffl? of chocolate and orange is bitter which upsets and angers her and she prepares for a hasty exit.

But something about the food and Eddie touches her. She awkwardly kisses him fondly on the cheek, and with regret, leaves. Eddie, knowing he will never see her again, still has such joy in his heart and does a little Greek-like dance for what he gave her, for his love of food, and for life.

The precision to which playwright Robert Askins wrote this tender piece, the care Director Cassie Bann took to present it without maudlin sentiment, and the sheer joy and fun the actors had performing this one act had to have melted most every heart in the theatre house. Singing and "swaying" food certainly left us laughing uproariously yet you could have heard that pin drop when Eddie and Billy said goodbye.

Being an actor first, Cassie Bann, in her directorial debut, instinctively knew how to talk an actors' language and garnered beautiful performances by each one. Chris Ramirez, while only mildly crude as busboy Nico, still reminded me of my days in restaurants and those leering cooks. Ramirez, along with Elizabeth Evans and Adam Garst, made for some pretty hilarious soup, oysters, ravioli and souffl?, being joyous puppeteers. All three sang and performed in beautiful harmony.

Whitney Holotik has always given her characters depth and complexity and this time put well-worn grit into Billy. Her waitress was honest and hard-working but also life weary. Holotik's portrayal of a woman so desirous of real intimacy yet unable to reciprocate the love that was so close at hand was heart wrenchingly effective.

I hadn't seen Adrian Churchill perform before now and was wonderfully privileged to see such talent in the role of Eddie. His commanding physical presence off balanced the chef's passive demeanor which further accentuated his heartbreak upon losing Billy. Subtlety in acting, for Churchill, was the key to a magnificent performance.

Onstage musicians Deanna Valone and Justin Locklear, on guitars and vibraphone, set the play's tone, supported each character's action and without fanfare, gently guided the audience through the many tiers of this quirky yet beautifully developed love story.

The puppets ? oh my gosh, the puppets! I quickly looked to see just which company made those whimsical acting, singing and dancing pieces of felt, foam and google eyes. To read that the Rite of Passage Executive Ensemble, meaning Clay Wheeler, Christopher Eastland, Matthew Clark, Cassie Bann and Nic McMinn, had created them astounded me ? what great work went into their making and the essential contribution the puppets made to the play was amazing.

You don't have to be a gourmand to fall for Love Song of the Albanian Sous Chef. You only need to open your heart to know you have seen a very special play prepared and served for our pleasure by Rite of Passage and a talented ensemble of actors and musicians. Amongst this year's festival fairly overflowing with great plays and amazing performances, this one is sure to be a FIT hit!

Love Song of an Albanian Sous Chef
Rite of Passage Theatre Company
the FIT (Festival of Independent Theatres)
at the Bath House Cultural Center on White Rock Lake
521 E. Lawther Drive
Dallas, TX 75218

Plays in double bill on Saturday, July 30th at 8:00pm; Sunday, July 31st at 2:00 pm; Thursday, August 4th at 8:00pm; and Saturday, August 6th at 2:00 pm.

*****FIT 2 Week Festival Passes are only $49 for all performances July 28th ? August 6th. Single Tickets are $12 Thursdays at 8 pm and