Photos by Casey Gardener

Theatrical Outfit is presenting Wendy MacLeod’s comedy “Slow Food,” directed by Ryan Oliveti, running through Feb. 16.

Irene (Marcie Millard) and Peter (Matthew Edwin Lewis) are on an official anniversary/new-empty nester vacation in tony Palm Springs, and we meet them about midnight at a Greek restaurant. They’ve had a rough time with their hotel and they’re starving. This was the only decent restaurant open.

I kept wondering why they didn’t just choose Greece for their trip; Peter talks more than once about his lucrative job. But that’s neither here nor there.

Instead, they find themselves dealing with the world’s most incompetent, rude, self-centered, needy waiter on earth. His name is Stephen (Dan Triandiflou). These three actors are the complete cast in this 90 minute play.

This situation is supposed to be funny, but I very often found Ms. MacLeod’s work merely annoying, if not unnerving—like someone running their fingernails across a blackboard. Smarmy rudeness from a waiter, or anyone, makes me very uncomfortable.

Okay, after we get into the play a bit further and accept the syntax, as Edward Albee would say, I began to relax a bit and perceive the characters’ aching humanity—even Stephen. And I appreciated the actors.

They are quite fine, especially Ms. Millard, who possesses one of the theatre’s rarest gifts: an authentic comedy sense. She has proven this time and again on the Atlanta stage, and this time her character reveals an endearing vulnerability. She’s a boon to any stage on which she appears.

Peter (Mr. Lewis) is basically long-suffering, quite solicitous to his wife, and has a wry sense of humor himself. One of the funniest moments comes when Peter attempts a faux seduction of Stephen: Peter is desperate to get the beer he wants, not to mention food. Peter is not gay, but Stephen (one assumes) is.

The seduction does not work; neither does bribery, trickery, or pleading. Poor Irene is so hungry she’s close to tears. But the wily, manic Stephen always creates some device to delay their food (for example, the cook has collapsed and is on the floor in the kitchen).

Soon all three begin revealing aspects of their lives, and believe it or not, they begin to have some empathy for one another. I suppose that is one of the play’s intended themes.

Mr. Oliveti, making his debut as a director at Theatrical Outfit, is quite nimble and accomplished, although he is necessarily hampered by the fact that Irene and Peter must remain seated at their table for most of the play. This is not his fault; Ms. McLeod wrote it this way. But you can’t devise terribly interesting blocking if the characters must remain seated.

Of course, Stephen is not seated: He hustles and bustles all over the place. He just makes sure their food is served at a snail’s pace (and in quite small portions, too). Mr. Triandiflou is a gifted comedian himself—even if his character makes you want to commit mayhem at times.

The Curley-Clays are the set designers; so you know it is clever and works perfectly.

I must report that much of the audience was in stitches most of the evening; I finally reluctantly joined them.

“Slow Food” is not one of the year’s 10 best plays; but a talented cast and director do their very best to make you believe it is in contention.

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