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Seafood Buffet
by Rosemary Frisino Toohey

J. Wynn Rousuck
August 16, 2001
The Baltimore Sun
Copyright 2001

Just about everything is fishy about Rosemary Frisino Toohey's Seafood Buffet. And that's a compliment.

Seafood figures prominently in each of the four one-act plays that make up this amusing Baltimore Playwrights Festival production at Fell's Point Corner Theatre. Crabs, lobster, fish sticks and tilapia are eaten, discussed or, in the most creative one-act, In the Tank, assume the starring roles.

In this clever piece - its inventiveness is reminiscent of the work of one-act-meister, David Ives - a pair of lobsters await their fate in a restaurant's dining-room tank. Mike Moran (who also directed the evening) and Paul Craley portray the doomed crustaceans, whose differing outlooks on life and death turn a sight gag into an existentialist debate.

Moran is the realist lobster, whose survival strategy consists of playing dead whenever diners look his way. Craley is the philosopher lobster, who argues that playing dead negates the point of being alive. Without spoiling the visual effects, suffice it to say that Mary Jane Oelke deserves high marks for her lobster and puppetry designs.

Unlike the scurrying lobsters, the two characters in Tilapia barely move, but their dialogue conveys plenty of action. Real-life husband and wife Branch and Dickens Warfield portray an aristocratic couple seated at opposite ends of a formally set table. Hosts of a black-tie dinner party, they have been deserted by their guests.

Beginning their conversation with enough vague remarks and pregnant pauses for several Pinter plays, they gradually fill in the blanks with an account of the tempestuous events that led to their guests' departure. What makes the tale funny is the calm, genteel manner in which the Warfields discuss the calamitous evening, interspersing the increasingly violent story with oh-so-civilized compliments on the cuisine.

The other two one-acts are less effective. Crabs! begins promisingly: Two couples meet in a restaurant parking lot when one backs into the other's car, then find themselves awkwardly sharing the restaurant lobby as they wait for tables. Before the evening is over, the couples discover they have more in common than a mere fender-bender. Toohey's reliance on coincidence has potential, but the activities of the couples' grown children (and their portrayals by Steve King and Leanna Foglia) are ridiculously far-fetched.

In Frozen Fish Sticks, three dissimilar women (Debbie Bennett, Lisa Geyer and Foglia) are members of a focus group commenting on food packaging. This innocuous activity quickly dissolves into a group therapy session. It's a mildly humorous, if predictable, turn of events, highlighted by Bennett's comical transformation from a tightly wrapped career woman into an unhinged hysteric.

The Playwrights Festival now is in its final lap, and Seafood Buffet is the only out-and-out comedy thus far. Despite some unevenness, Toohey, a festival veteran, displays a welcome knack for the genre. One word of advice: Make sure you eat before you go to the theater. Otherwise, you're bound to come out with a ravenous appetite.

Show times at Fell's Point Corner, 251 S. Ann St., are 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays, through Aug. 26. Tickets cost $11 and $12. Call 410-276-7837.

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