Stressed out from that midterm grade? Panicking about student government? Well don’t! Just laugh. And as “The Food Chain” by Nicky Silver shows, comedy is in practically everything—even the most controversial topics.
On Thursday, April 7 at 6 p.m., April 8 at 8 p.m., and April 9 at 2 and 7 p.m., “The Food Chain” will be performed in the Susan Stein Shiva. The show is being produced by the Philaletheis Society, Vassar’s oldest student theatre organization that recently celebrated their 150th anniversary. It is the group’s first production of the spring semester. The production is being directed by Ari Sacristan-Benjet ’18 and stage managed by Justas Rodarte ’19.
“The Food Chain” is a comedy-filled with sex, food, love and hilarious characters. It follows newlywed Amanda, an anorexic poet played by Yvette Segan ’19, who calls a crisis hotline worker, Bea, played by Miranda Amey ’19, about her missing husband, Ford, played by Gideon Taffee ’19, before he suddenly reappears. Simultaneously, Serge, a vain runway model played by James Haxton ’16, waits for his lover when a former fling, Otto, played by Aiden Lewy ’18, also reappears. Eventually, all of the characters’ storylines interweave to form together and create a chaotic scenario similar to a Shakespearean comedy but with a bit more absurdity and border-pushing.
Because of the serious topics that are covered including eating disorders and mental health, a full list of trigger warnings will be provided upon request.
Despite there being so much chaos in the show, the stage design has taken the opposite approach, with Rodarte explaining, “The play focuses a lot on the chemistry between the characters, as well as the idea of a narcissist outlook since each character is, as it’s put in the play, ‘shallow to the point of convex.’ As a result, the design for the show evolved to match that, with a minimalist set design, and a seating arrangement that gives the audience a feeling of looking down into the world of the characters.”
“This show will be in the round, which is a fun challenge to work with. It gives the actors the freedom to really treat the space as if it was an actual room, but it is challenging for me to choreograph the movements so that all the audience has something interesting to watch at all times,” Sacristan-Benjet said about how she’s had to alter her directing to conform to the set’s untraditional layout.
“The Food Chain” originally premiered Off-Broadway at the Westside Theatre in 1995 and ran until June 1996. This original production was eventually nominated for several awards, including receiving an Obie Award, and got very positive reviews from The New York Times and Variety. This comedy has also seen successful productions in San Francisco and Washington D.C., showing that audiences are taking to the idea of finding the funny side of otherwise cringe-worthy subject matter.
After first doing a scene from the show in a summer program in high school, Sacristan-Benjet decided to choose “The Food Chain” when determining what to direct: “I really wanted to direct a play that would make people pee their pants in laughter. I felt that at Vassar we always take things too seriously and that a lot of the theatre here tackles issues from a very dark perspective. I wanted to find a play that dealt with important issues that we face at Vassar (like relationships, sexuality and eating disorders) but from a brighter perspective. It is my belief that there is no better medicine than laughter and sometimes approaching a subject with a new light makes people reflect on it in new ways.”
As the only senior in “The Food Chain” Haxton commented on how unique his experience has been: “Before this show, I was only ever in musicals at Vassar so obviously this has had a different feel. It also really helps that this show is a comedy and that every other cast member besides myself is in a comedy group, so we’ve all had some good laughs during the rehearsal process.”
Haxton commented on the unique opportunities “The Food Chain” afforded him. “For me, as the show’s only senior, I was excited to get the chance to meet and work with younger actors who I didn’t really know. Every other show I’ve been in here was with people I had worked with before or knew from a social setting. To have a blank slate with the other four actors has been refreshing.”
Other productions in Philaletheis’ season for this semester are “4.48 Psychosis” by British playwright Sarah Kane and “Yogurt” by Pirilti Onukar ’16, which will both be going up in the next couple weeks. The organization will also be producing two special events. The Philaletheis Society tends to put on a variety of plays each semester, stretching from conventional to experimental.
As serious as we may take ourselves sometimes, being college students, sometimes it doesn’t hurt to take a step back and just laugh at it all. One essay doesn’t mean your entire future and not every petition can change the world. Comedy can be found in the weirdest of places and, when handled with the right conscientiousness, it is possible to laugh at practically anything.
Ruminating on what audiences hopefully will extrapolate from the show, Sacristan-Benjet stated, “I hope the audience laughs so hard they wished they had a diaper on and that they find ways to connect with the play on a personal level.”