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Review: The 4 Food Groups

By Julie Mullins · May 30th, 2009 · Fringe

Locally-based Pones Inc.’s 2009 Fringe production struck me as a guilty pleasure of sorts. You know, the kind of piece you might enjoy in spite of yourself.

The performance piece in four short acts serves up a bawdy farce, spiked with moments of sharp wit and teasing sexuality. While the commonalities between sex and food are well-known (and sometimes well-worn), the players of Pones Inc. find fresh and fun ways to explore sex, food, interpersonal relationships and more.

The lively action — a combination of spoken word, accordion music and movement steeped in humor and plenty of sloppy food and drink antics — takes place over the course of a dinner party. You quickly realize it’s no ordinary dinner party. The four guests engage in collective rhythmic rituals followed by a jumble of introductions among the two men and two women. Questions arise: Have they met before? Who, if any, are couples? Does it matter?

Water gets poured, spilled, spewed. I grew concerned when the floor became slick for dancing, but there was disappointingly little of this. Effective movements and spot-on gestures with a few basic lifts were more the order of the day.

And, yes, some partnering.

For all its messiness, the romp remained anchored by a simple, yet clever structure arranged in — you guessed it — fours. Over four topical scenes, four performers verbally and physically delve into four subtopics. Nearly everything about the work pertains to food, sex or (usually) both. As a writer and language buff, I enjoyed the early banter of a near-endless stream of words and phrases ending in the sound “-ate” (e.g., “lubricate,” “take the bait”). Smart writing that’s often funny and less often poignant makes the wheels turn in this show.

Another highlight of The 4 Food Groups lies in its gnawing sense of disdain for mundane social graces. The actors both capture and satirize it well: small talk as such, awkward moments, table manners and social dining (read: sexual) expectations. Food stands in for sex and vice versa — as if you could forget amid the delicious smorgasbord of double entendres.

The performers’ jostling between moments of internal and external awareness, of shifting between public and private moments lent the work some heart. We’ve all been there: primping, throat-clearing, posing, fidgeting, daring to make a move.

In moments of hetero “courtship,” the men seemed more fumbling and the women more seductive. The costumes reflected this, too, with the men in plain pants and tank tops (wife-beaters) and the women each in a sexier combination of street clothing and a lingerie-based top or bottom. But all players were equal when scuttling on the floor on all fours with chicken bones in their mouths.

The 4 Food Groups succeeds on its own terms, although some might find the twentysomething perspective a bit myopic. By the show’s conclusion, I felt like something was missing (dessert?) but still left fairly satisfied. As long as you don’t expect to extract deeper meaning or take the content too seriously, you can sit back and enjoy the party.

Performed at Know Theatre through June 5. See performance dates and preview here.



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