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‘Between Mouthfuls’ traps put-upon waiter between two pathetic married couples


The second short one-act play that’s being performed during the Alliance for the Arts’ production of Confusions is Alan Ayckbourn’s Between Mouthfuls. It features two couples at adjoining tables in a restaurant who are waited upon by Thomas Marsh.

At the table on the audience’s right are Mr. and Mrs. Pearce, played by Rob Green and Sonya McCarter. At the table on the audience’s left are Martin and Polly, played by Lemec Bernard and Lucy Sundby. Mrs. Pearce suspects her husband, recently returned from a 3-week-long business trip in Italy, is having an affair. For her part, Polly is starving for her husband’s attention, but he hungers for recognition from his dismissive boss for the yeoman’s job he’s been doing in his boss’ absence. As the evening wears on, the angst between these parallel couples amps up until it reaches the boiling point. All the while, the poor waiter can’t help but overhear their increasingly confrontational conversations while he attempts to take their orders and serve their drinks and meals.

Thomas Marsh is sensational as the put-upon waiter. He conducts a seminar on pained facial expressions and repulsed body language as he bounces back and forth like the proverbial ping-pong ball between the warring couples. It’s clear that he’s trying his mightiest not to eavesdrop, but dammit man, the conversations are just too salacious and prurient to resist.

There are a legion of articles on the things that our servers overhear as they bring us our appetizers, drinks and meals. Break-ups may top the list, as many men mistakenly believe that their wife/girlfriend is less likely to make a scene in a public setting. It’s also interesting when a guy brings his wife in to dine one night and his girlfriend (or boyfriend or her sister or daughter) the next. But don’t misunderstand. Women make use of dining out to deliver bad news. Like the date who decides to break the news of her pregnancy to her married partner over dessert. Or the wife who complains, “Well maybe if you hadn’t boned our son’s girlfriend and gotten her pregnant we could afford to eat somewhere nicer than the f***ing Olive Garden.”

But as uncomfortable as these situations may be for a server, it’s the surprise revelation that challenges waiters and waitresses to keep their composure and resist the temptation to bust out laughing tableside.

There is, indeed, a surprise revelation in Between Mouthfuls. But to find out what that is, you’ll just have to reserve a square of the GreenMarket lawn. But Between Mouthfuls is about much more than simply depicting a poor server caught in between two unhappy married couples or a shocking reveal. The seated foursome are, put simply, pathetic people. Impeccably played by Rob Green, Mr. Pearce is a cold-hearted bastard of the lowest order. His wife, portrayed by the amazing Sonya McCarter, evokes the sympathies of any woman who’s ever found herself in a long-term relationship with a philandering partner. It’s just as horrible, without question, to find yourself in second, third or fourth place to your partner’s ambition, career and his boss. This is Polly’s situation, and Lucy Sundby is magnificent as the wife trying to shock her husband into reconnecting with her. But the worst of the lot is Martin, played by Lemec Bernard.

Bernard is a hulking, linebacker of a man who approaches acting as a blood sport. But his character in Between Mouthfuls is a complete sell-out. He’s sacrificed his self-esteem, his self-confidence and his dignity in the futile hope that his boss will acknowledge and give him a pat on the back for a job well-done. He’s so obsessed by the promise of praise that he cannot see that his boss is using him like piece of scratch paper or a post-it or that his obsequious, servile debasement has only merited his boss’ utter contempt. Bernard’s portrayal is so convincing that you’ll want to grab him by his broad shoulders and shake some sense into him.

And therein lies evidence of Alan Ayckbourn’s genius as a playwright and Bill Taylor’s brilliance as a director. They expertly divert our attention from the human drama unfolding on the stage with the antics and sight gags so expertly delivered by Thomas Marsh as our waiter du jour.

January 22, 2021.

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