When a restaurant brands themselves as being “modern,” one can undoubtedly expect to partake in an elaborate ritual concocted of seemingly endless and over-specific courses: drinks with choices ranging from tap water to monk-brewed beer, tastings of any variety of global cheeses, entrees of pork where each dish wields the name of the pig it once was, chocolate-packed desserts that induce panic attacks in the chefs doomed to prepare them, and, finally, the hefty check. “Intimate Dinner” depicts a colorful night in just such a restaurant and the effect it has on the unfortunate waiter assigned to run the floor.
Making its DC debut in the Capital Fringe festival, Lauren French’s “Intimate Dinner” was first performed as a workshop in New York City in November of 2018. The show was then selected to be in the 2018 Piccolo Spoleto Festival and led to the playwright and actress in the one-woman show, Lauren French, receiving an Individual Artist Grant from the Metropolitan Arts Council in Greenville.
Overall, the show’s witty tie-ins to cuisine trends, classic characters, and celebrity icons, all woven together by French’s bright and versatile presence, made this performance a highlight and a must-see.
Directed by Prentiss Standridge, the July 17th performance of “Intimate Dinner” at St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church followed waitress Lauren as she navigates through a hectic night at an unnamed Pop-up restaurant populated by a plethora of distinct characters, including celebrity chefs. Darting between numerous character personas, French’s comedic dialogue and distinct personalities for each character made the show both entertaining and attention-grabbing.
Guiding each patron through the labyrinthine menu was Lauren French as the restauran’t only working waitress appropriately named Lauren. French harnessed a grounded presence when acting as the waitress, distinguishing her from each of the lofty and fanciful characters working or dining with her. This clear sanity, marked by French’s choice eye rolls and mumbled utterings in response to the more whimsical antics of her peers, allowed the character to become gradually overwhelmed and descend from her centering ballet routine into the climatic internal rampage that is familiar to many employees of the service industry.
The night was dotted with appearances by celebrity chefs, all personified by French. As Sandra Lee of Food Network’s Semi-Homemade, French guided the audience through an increasingly drunken tutorial of campfire placemats where each audience member, having picked up a marker and paper upon arrival, created a spasmic and multi-colored handprint campfire using French’s slurred and abrasive instructions.
Humming the theme song of the Barefoot Contessa, French next embodied the beloved and well-known Ina Garten. French cleverly referred to Garten’s constant mentions of her husband, Jeffrey, and incited some of the most raucous laughter of the night by insisting on referring to an audience participant as Jeffrey and leading him through a pantomimed cooking demonstration. Throughout the rest of the show, French appeared as Bobby Flay, a Great British Bakeoff contestant, and the head chef of her unnamed establishment, giving each discrete body language and character voices that transformed the icons into lovable caricatures.
Besides being celebrity guests, French performed as countless restaurant-goers, each identified by exaggerated facial expression, body language, and some well-suited props: a flamboyant handkerchief-wielding woman demanded audience with the chef, a snapback toting frat boy boasted his Tinder hookup of the previous night, an adulterous couple French kissed and bickered dramatically, a companionless man demanded the waitress direct questions to his non-existent wife, and many, many more. These archetypal characters were breathed new life by French’s energetic and well-paced performance as she darted between each role, oftentimes having a three-way conversation (or sometimes argument) with herself.
The stage was donned with a few scattered tables and chairs as well as a demonstration bar, all of which worked together to create a large, hectic restaurant out of a small and reserved space. Well-timed musical interludes welcomed each celebrity guest and Lauren’s calming ballet solos, only adding to scenes and never distracting from the action onstage. Varying her characters using only props and her voice, French’s waitress uniform acted as a blank canvas for each character, allowing her to build personality into each character she became. The blocking resembled that of a true restaurant waitress, generating a natural flow in the performance.
Lauren French’s original show, “Intimate Dinner,” employed well-timed comedic dialogue and pop culture references that appealed to a variety of age ranges in order to keep each audience member fully engaged. Overall, the show’s witty tie-ins to cuisine trends, classic characters, and celebrity icons, all woven together by French’s bright and versatile presence, made this performance a highlight and a must-see.
Running Time: 55 minutes.
Advisory: Language. Recommended for ages 13+.
“Intimate Dinner” plays on July 24th at 8:15pm and 26th at 9:00pm at St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church. Tickets can be purchased at the venue, over the phone at (866)811-4111, or online.