The Diner and Mr. Stone: Secrets Revealed in the Kitchen

dinerThe ubiquitous Kevin Broccoli has two original full-length works running at the moment, both at companies that form two of the three legs of The Rhode Island Theater Alliance. Known for his shorter pieces and monologues, Broccoli’s long-form works are increasingly gaining attention and Contemporary Theater Company’s run of his adaptation of The Visit is competing with its own author for attention in Pawtucket as Mixed Magic Theatre presents Broccoli’s tautly written and produced The Diner and Mr. Stone. The two plays could not be more different; The Visit (based on the 1956 German play by Friedrich Dürrenmatt) is a sweeping, absurdist tragicomedy with pleasingly odd musical interludes while Mr. Stone is a far more familiar creature — a two-character play that unfolds gradually as a father and daughter discover the dark underbelly of Providence, their family and the varying definitions of “success.”

The Diner and Mr. Stone centers around the proprietor of a West Side eatery that may or may not be going under. His daughter, Karen, in town for a funeral after a two-year absence, confronts her father with some long-simmering questions as well as the news that Providence Monthly has just listed the diner as a “hot spot.” What ensues is a rapidfire exchange that calls to mind other two-character classics such as Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune. Broccoli’s script ups the ante over the course of two acts and manages to balance sentimentality with a darker edge that keeps Diner from becoming mawkish or predictable. Ricardo Pitts-Wiley and Hannah Lum have a natural chemistry that they sometimes lose at the service of limited staging possibilities in a one chair/one room play, but they have begun to settle into a nicely tuned dynamic that will only become more polished as the run progresses.

That set is the kitchen of Mr. Stone’s restaurant, cluttered with newly purchased dry goods and dueling refrigerators. Alexander Toussaint’s tastefully cluttered playing space also features a triptych upstage of a black and white picture of a (the) diner, a touch reminiscent of last year’s Zoo Story park setting, which constantly serves to remind us of the past and the present. As Karen begins the process of painfully extracting information and history from the recalcitrant and wary Mr. Stone (“whenever a woman starts off with ‘I’ve been thinking’…”), the two verbally and literally pace the floor like a couple of caged animals, breaking apart and taking sides only to come back together again in bursts of revelation.

Broccoli’s script is paced intelligently enough to not let the issue of race become the main issue first and foremost. Family matters give way to secrets and those secrets eventually bring out the racial tensions that Mr. Stone has had to deal with all these years. Major characters are referred to, but never seen. Some are dead but all loom large over the proceedings as Karen and her father wade through the intricacies of family, prejudice and business. “Nobody’s a racist all the time,” declares Mr. Stone, underlining the conflicts he faced in raising his daughter amid the tensions of keeping a business alive in the heart of a New England mafia stronghold. Lum manages a fine line between a mature, successful woman and a petulant child as Pitts-Wiley betrays the impatience of a father dealing with matters that he thought he had seen to and/or buried long ago. He has let her go off to become successful in her own right, knowing that he may lose her in the process. However, his own righteous pride in his actions is supported by sage experience. Lines such as “I’ve never seen a ladder so high that it could give a child enough perspective to look down on his parents” are delivered not as timeless platitudes, but original nuggets of wisdom from Stone. After a dramatic closure to Act One, Pitts-Wiley opens the second half with a gorgeous monologue that allows us a look at Stone’s internal struggle after an entire act of keeping his interior life closely guarded. The second half escalates and pours revelation on top of revelation until, ultimately, Stone flips the deck and demands to know what Karen has been hiding from him all these years. The Diner and Mr. Stone is part family drama but far too tense and dangerous to be pigeonholed as simply that. Broccoli’s forte is dialogue and what these two characters discuss could fill a week of action-filled drama. Yet, for all of its menace, the theme is still family. “You’re all I need to be proud of” would sound trite if it didn’t come at the tail end of some deeply dark and often disturbing discoveries. Yes, Diner buttons neatly by its final lines, but it does make us question what goes on behind the scenes of every conversation and every greasy spoon meal. As Broccoli writes, “I was happy and I forgot myself.” Often, what we silently sacrifice for our family may feel like the right thing to do, but the scars of those actions are stories that demand to be told eventually.

Mixed Magic Theatre presents The Diner and Mr. Stone, by Kevin Broccoli. Directed by Jonathan Pitts-Wiley. Featuring Ricardo Pitts-Wiley with Hannah Lum.  Through November 9, Fri. & Sat. @ 7:30 pm, Sun. @ 3 pm. 560 Mineral Spring Ave. Pawtucket, RI. Contact: Mixed Magic Theatre   401-305-7333 or mmtri.com.

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