“Eat the Taste” – iTheatre Collaborative

This review aired on KBAQ November 3, 2008


iTheatre Collaborative, Performance Outreach Theatre, Herberger Theater Center Phoenix, AZ

Political satire can be funny. Witness the “Saturday Night Live” jabs at both of this year’s presidential candidates. Obscure political and social satire must have the right audience though, a group that understands, appreciates, and adores the punches.

iTheatre Collaborative often tackles rarely produced plays. Currently, they offer “Eat the Taste.” While some of this satirical comedy by “Urinetown the Musical” author Greg Kotis, takes aim at Vice President Richard Cheney and George W. Bush’s one-time Attorney General, John Ashcroft, the brunt of “Eat the Taste’s” humor hits theater insiders and the shenanigans surrounding Broadway productions, something few local audiences will recognize or find amusing.

The play’s premise is that Ashcroft wants to star in a one-man Broadway musical. The retired Attorney General loved “Urinetown” and wants Kotis to write his show. To accomplish this bizarre task, three obsessive/compulsive Homeland Security and Justice Department agents kidnap Kotis. They sequester him in a New York motel to convince – or force – him to accept the assignment.

The agents aren’t successful in getting the playwright’s cooperation so “Urinetown’s” composer, Mark Hollman, and producer, Matthew Rego, are brought in to convince Kotis. It’s a slam at the egotistical Ashcroft, the Bush administration, but it hits Broadway commercialism the hardest. “Eat the Taste” was successful when it played off-Broadway in 2004 because New York audiences understood theater. The humor, for people in the know, is amusing, but the show isn’t a laugh riot and there are many dull stretches in the 75-minute piece.

Director Greg Lutz keeps things crisp and lively. He knows how his solid but not completely perfect cast can milk every bit of humor from the frail play. Best are the Homeland security agents, Christopher Haines’ Bill and Lutz’s Paul. The pair’s impeccable comic timing and clever sight gags are wonderfully whacky. Shannon Whirry, the Justice agent, is all starchy business, a front she never drops. As the extravagant producer, Robert X. Planet reveals the reality of staging Broadway shows. Ryan Nelson bends his creativity as the composer who attempts to write catchy show tunes.

Neil Cohen’s Kotis, the playwright, struggles with finding the correct comedy style and his inconsistency and hesitancy sacrifices the role’s innate humor. Cohen also fails to play the physical comedy amusingly and his comic timing never works. He doesn’t understand understated humor, something this character must use to be funny.

“Eat the Taste” requires a substantial grasp on Broadway producing. The political jabs are stretched and Ashcroft is not at the top of Bush administration cronies that deserve pointed satire. “Eat the Taste” continues through November 15. For tickets, call the iTheater Collaborative box office at 602-347-1071 or go online at www.itheatrecollaborative.org.

Grade: C