Saturday, November 7, 2015

A New Theater Group at Willow Theater


A New Deal at Willow Theater

By Skip Sheffield

Boca Raton has a new theater group, and its first production of a three-play season, “Scenes From a Chinese Restaurant,” plays through Nov. 15 at the Willow Theater of Sugar Sand Park.
The producer is The Playground Group LLC, whose home base is the Glades Road Branch Library. The playwright is local resident Tom Andrew, who also built the elaborate set pieces. The director is Joyce Sweeney, assisted by David Erlich.
As the title indicates, the play is a series of five scenes set in the Xu Shin Chinese Restaurant. We never see Mr. Shin but we do see his portrait and hear his wise words from famous thinkers as a preface to each scene. The cast is large (15) and diverse, skewing to an older demographic.
In the first scene we see three women and a man seated at their table, deeply engrossed in their handheld devices. A younger man Artie (Daniel Gil) makes his entrance carrying a bag. He apologizes for being late, but no one even looks up from their computer toys. The gag is no one ever acknowledges Artie even though he has brought expensive gifts for each one of them. Such is life in the plugged-in, tuned-out 21st century.
The second scene is called “The Skeptic.” That would be a grump played by George Wentzler, who doesn’t believe in a higher power, good luck and certainly not the predictions inside fortune cookies. In this funny vignette, George’s four female friends (Maja Nile, Teresa Biber LoMonte and Darcy Hernandez) show how wrong he is.
Scene three is the bittersweet 25th wedding anniversary of a couple (Brian Dever and Fran Friedman), which is the most emotional and poignant segment of the show.
The fourth scene and my favorite is called “The Early Birds,” for it is so Boca and so true. Four senior citizens (Don Grimme, Peter Hawkins, Penny Mandel and Elayne Wilks) have come to Xu Shin for its 5-7 p.m. $12.95 Early Bird Special of dinner and a bottle of beer with refill privileges. Peter Hawkins wears a plastic oxygen mask that makes him impossible to understand and lugs a large oxygen canister on wheels. The ever-patient hostess (Robin Alexander) smiles unfailingly as the loutish elders make is clear they don’t want to spend a penny more than $12.95, and they intend to get the most for their money. Sadly this goes on all the times at all-you-can-eat buffets, bit it is also the funniest bit.
The final scene features two couples (Jill Brown and Fran Friedman and Brian Dever and Nick LoMonte) wearing spectacle-style computer gizmos that enable them to gain insights into the character of potential love mates. Things don’t turn out quite as advertised, but that’s how it is with computer dating.
Shows are 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $25 ($15 group). Call 561-347-3948.

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