HOW TO USE A KNIFE (InterAct): A sharp new play

Angel Sigala, J Hernandez, and Trevor Willam Fayle in HOW TO USE A KNIFE. Photo by  Kate Raines/Plate 3 Photography.

Angel Sigala, J Hernandez, and Trevor Willam Fayle in HOW TO USE A KNIFE. Photo by Kate Raines/Plate 3 Photography.

Will Snider’s brilliant play, HOW TO USE A KNIFE, is sizzling at InterAct Theatre Company under Seth Rozin’s go-for-broke direction. This is one of those terrific evenings in the theater where one minute you’re laughing, and the next minute you’re seized by a kind of nameless dread. Scene One is hilarious; Scene Two wipes the smile right off your face.

Some shows need dialogue coaches; some need fight choreographers; this one had a chef from Fork restaurant work with the cast as—what? a chopping coach, I guess. But it will turn out that there are more and worse ways to use a knife than slicing carrots. The chopping and sharpening authenticity extends to the set itself, a stainless steel kitchen designed by Colin McIlvaine.

Boss of this New York kitchen is George (played with remarkable complexity and subtlety by Scott Greer), a formerly haute chef, now slumming in this burger joint after hitting bottom as a drug addict and a drunk. “I am not a good person at all.” The source of his self-destructive pain is one of the secrets the play will quietly reveal.

Michael, the slick and smarmy owner of the restaurant, is played to comic perfection by Jered McLenigan, who can deliver lines like, “You sell kale for a living; I want to kill you.” that might live permanently in memory.  

The busboy (Trevor William Fayle) is constantly fuming at the two Guatemalan cooks (Angel Sigala and J Hernandez) whose horsing around in Spanish creates their separate world, a not-so-funny isolation.

And in the corner of the kitchen, silently washing dishes, is Steve (played by Lindsay Smiling with a self-contained elegance that is somehow frightening). He has learned how to “channel pain into power.” Like Chef, Steve  has a shocking past that the play will reveal under the pressure exerted by Kim (Maria Konstantinidis), who turns up in pursuit of a man named Etienne.

Gradually and quietly, we hear briefly about the genocide in Rwanda and the war that followed in Congo. We are reminded that thousands of men ‘disappeared’ each month in Guatemala. As Chef says, in both wonder and horror, “What we don’t know about the world….”

Don’t miss this flawless cast in this terrific new play.

 [Drake Theater, 302 S. Hicks Street] May 26-June 18, 2017; interacttheatre.org/how-to-use-a-knife

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About the author

Toby Zinman

Toby Zinman is Professor of English at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She was a Fulbright professor at Tel Aviv University and a visiting professor in China. She publishes widely and lectures internationally on American drama. Her fifth book, Replay: Classic Modern Drama Reimagined, was recently published by Methuen, and she has just finished an essay, "Visions of Tragedy in Contemporary American Drama," due out in 2017. Zinman is also the chief theater critic for the Philadelphia Inquirer where she reviews New York and London as well as Philadelphia. She was named by American Theatre magazine as, “one of the 12 most influential critics in America.” Her travel writing has taken her all over the world, from dogsledding in the Yukon to hiking across England.