Happy Medium Theatre and Argos Productions join forces to present John Shea and Maureen Cornell's "Lifers," a play about the restaurant industry and those who are brave enough -- if you want to call it that -- to make a living out of it.
The story is simple enough. The staff of a restaurant undergoing a major shake-up (change of name, change of menu, change of image) has to contend with all the usual frictions of the daily workplace, plus the stress of so many new elements. Among them: A fresh hire, a college kid named Winfield Smith (David D'Andrea). He's young and handsome, and he's going to be a hit with the patrons; he's also creating quite a stir back in the kitchen, as newly-minted manager Sherry (Audrey Lynn Sylvia) and gay waiter Michael (Mikey DiLoreto) both take a shine to him.
Marie (Maureen Adduci), a veteran of thirty years of waiting tables, seems less interested in Winfield as anything other than a new addition to a fold she watches over with the masterful care of a tribal matriarch; when it comes to romance, the cook, a fellow named Doyle (Peter Brown) is more her style, or at least Doyle would like to think so. But romance takes a back seat to keeping the crew more or less together and functioning as a unit, despite simmering resentments and personal problems, with those of troubled single mother Carla (Lisette Maria Morris) being the most acute.
Anyone who has worked in the restaurant business will cop immediately to the play's references to drug use in the restroom, sex in the walk-ins, and post-shift drinks. It's hard, stressful work; like all such labor, it has a way of devouring time and ambition. Years can go by with the same cycles forever repeating. Will Winfield follow his plan and depart the server gig after a year? Or will he, too, become a "lifer?"
I'll admit to suffering flashbacks to my own college days of waiting tables (badly), and also to feeling the slightest twinge of nostalgia for the hectic, often chaotic, and frequently dysfunctional experience of restaurant work. Shea and Cornell lay it out with deft strokes, with director Brett Marks zeroing in on telling moments. Audrey Lynn Sylvia's petty, power-mad Sherry? I worked with her. She went by another name and she looked... well, kind of similar, actually, and this character is so perfectly drawn and executed that she seemed to hover there on stage.
I could say the same of the other characters, as well: Each was so genuinely written and embodied I felt a little too much at home watching them. (Now, that's scary!) The humor was spot-on; the humanity, warm and rough.
The set, by Marc Ewart, carries a similar air of authenticity. (A set this well-designed argues well for collaborations of this sort; scenic design this good-looking isn't cheap.)
Regrettably, this review is going up late. But if you have a chance to see "Lifers" before it closes on April 4, take it!
"Lifers" continues through April 4 at Boston Playwrights' Theater at 949 Commonwealth Ave in Boston. For tickets and more information, please go to http://www.happymediumtheatre.com or http://www.argosproductions.com