Choosing a favorite from among the three short plays presented in Destiny is a Careless Waiter, a Fringe show from Juniper Productions, is as impossible and unnecessary as choosing a favorite dessert. All three are richer and more layered than they initially appear, and will similarly leave the audience beaming with satisfaction.
Sisters to the end
The performance opens with Spices, Pinball… and Guacamole, in which two very different sisters assessing their lives after a tragic year come together over a meal to bestow congratulations, reminisce, and, ever so slightly, judge each other. Madison is healing from a devastating car accident, while Sydney is a newly minted business owner buckling under the stress. The meal starts out politely, and ends, in the predictable manner of siblings, with an utter reversion to childhood and a shrieking rendition of “Who was Mom and Dad’s favorite?” before reaching a tender, messy resolution that reinforces the ironclad bond that belies the sisters’ initial brittle politeness.
A surprising date
The evening concludes with Hotter Than Thoreau. Coke meets Denny, the waiter he’s been sexting on Grindr, at the restaurant where he works, to turn their erotic fantasies into reality. However, the actual encounter starts awkward and teeters to adorable throughout the course of their date, ending in a sweeter and more solid place than either one of them could’ve anticipated. The audience winces in sympathy as the two men alternate between their adopted playboy personas and endearingly geeky selves.
Part of the story
Situated in the middle of the evening, Destiny is a Careless Waiter is the keystone of the evening’s production. Foreshadowed in Spices and referenced in Thoreau, it’s a masterful screwball comedy for the modern age. The wrong people fall in love, mixed messages abound, and just when the story settles into a predictable pattern, a twist reminds the audience that compatibility isn’t everything. The entire cast (Ellen Cohn, Chauncey Meeks-Owens, Christopher David Roché, and Sisi Wright) pull double duty throughout the evening with flawless ease, and all four sparkle with a genuine warmth and chemistry that makes it hard to remember that the story is a beautiful piece of fiction and not an inner glimpse into real lives.
The playwright, Julie Zaffarano, mines much of the humor from millennial hallmarks: references to “wokeness,” dating apps, social media, and Netflix zest the script with a thoroughly modern flavor, yet Zaffarano is sensitive enough not to pillory an entire generation for their peccadillos. Millennial culture is the basis for the joke, but not the butt, and the laughs are all the richer for it.
The Trolley Car Café is as much a character as any portrayed by the cast. The setting lends an intimacy and comfort that allow the audience to break the barrier of the stage and become a part of the story.
What, When, Where
Destiny is a Careless Waiter. By Julie Zaffarano, directed by Lexa Grace. Through September 22, 2019 at Trolley Car Café, 3629 S. Ferry Road, Philadelphia. (215) 413-1318 or fringearts.com.