Don’t let the quiet, character-introducing start of “Caroline’s Kitchen” fool you. Before this play by Torben Betts is over, there will be an apocalyptic reckoning in the complicated lives in the author’s very dark, well-acted comedy that is part of the current Brits Off Broadway series. The work is being presented by the Original Theatre Company, Ghost Light Theatre and Eilene Davidson. Make of it what you will.
Caroline Langrishe plays the Caroline in the story. She’s a successful, popular TV cooking star, and set designer James Perkins has given her an enviable kitchen from which her shows are broadcast. We also meet Jasmyn Banks as her volatile assistant, Amanda.
Caroline’s husband is the blustering, narrow-minded Mike, portrayed by Aden Gillett, who is oblivious to the fact that Caroline is responsive to the passion their handyman, Graeme (James Sutton), has for her. She also has a drinking problem she refuses to acknowledge.
There is a planned celebration dinner for Leo (Tom England), the son of Caroline and Mike, on the occasion of his graduation from Cambridge University. Leo comes home with some lofty ideals of wanting to go to Syria to help refugees. He also is harboring a secret that he struggles to get off his chest.
Before long Graeme’s unstable wife Sally (Elizabeth Boag) turns up in a rage, as she has discovered messages revealing her husband’s infidelity and she threatens to spill the beans. All of the above is a recipe for disaster more potent that any cooking recipe Caroline has created.
Director Alastair Whatley builds the action carefully leading to the ultimate chaos that erupts as an increasingly intense storm rages outside, emphasized by the lighting (by Chris Withers) and the sound design (by Max Pappenheim). By the end the stage itself is left in a shambles as a result of the hell that has broken loose. Hint: keep your eyes on the carving knife left on the kitchen table early-on.
None of the characters, including Caroline, with her strong religious beliefs, are particularly likable. But likability is not the point. In the play’s symbolism, the characters can be seen as leading lives destined for personal destruction, just as the outside world appears to also be headed tragically in our turbulent times. Author Betts gets the message across with gallows humor that enables us to view the characters with amusement from our safe perch in the audience, concentrating on the dark comedy rather than worrying about reality or likability—or ourselves. At 59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street. Phone: 646-892-7999. Reviewed May 5, 2019.