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reviewed by Adam Crowe

While Ken’s most recent theatrical excursion took him to the Indiana Repertory Theatre, mine took me a few blocks north of there, to Phoenix Theatre Indianapolis. Sadly, while I missed the recently produced Dogs of Rwanda, I was lucky enough to catch “part two” of what Artistic Director Bryan Fonseca calls their Rwandan Winter: How to Use a Knife, by Will Snider.   Please don’t let this reference scare you away, for as Artistic Director Bryan Fonseca notes, while the events surrounding the Rwandan genocide play a part in the story, How to Use a Knife’s central concern is people and how they deal with questions of tragedy, loss, guilt, and absolution. Neither a history lesson nor a lecture on man’s inhumanity to his fellow man, the play is passionate (and frequently funny) storytelling by a talented young playwright .

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Michael (Rob Johansen, left) and Chef George (Ryan Artzburger) in a scene from Phoenix Theatre’s production of “How to Use a Knife”

The play’s action takes place in the kitchen of a lower Manhattan restaurant, where we meet Chef George (Ryan Artzburger) and where he meets his new staff. The Chef is being given a second chance at a career by Michael, a former protégée. Michael seems more concerned about his high-end lifestyle than he does about the kitchen or its inhabitants. He cannot be bothered to learn that the cooks he calls “Mexicans” are actually Guatemalans, or even know the name of his “African” dishwasher. As the plot unfolds, we learn the reasons behind George’s need for a second chance, and discover why Steve the dishwasher (Ansley Valentine) may have some insight.

Artzburger and Valentine’s performances are the center of this story and they are both top notch. Each unfolds the core of his character’s pain with nuance and finesse. Both actors perfectly inhabit their characters, just as the audience inhabits a beautifully realistic restaurant kitchen, thanks to the design talents of James Gross. The rest of Chef George’s staff are equally sublime. Wheeler Castanada and Carlos Medina Maldonado are terrific as cooks Miquel and Carlos. Tommy Lewey is appropriately disgruntled as Jack the busboy. Rob Johansen, as Michael the restaurant owner, does great work in making a two dimensional role feel relevant and alive. Chelsea Anderson plays Kim, the last character we meet. A seemingly unstoppable investigator with her eye on George’s kitchen, Anderson is in fine form in a small but crucial role.

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Chef George (Ryan Artzburger) and Steve the dishwasher (Ansley Valentine) in a scene from Phoenix Theatre’s “How to Use a Knife”

I try not to detail a play’s entire plot, as I don’t wish to spoil the twists and turns that said plot delivers. Be assured that in this case, the story is told directly and honestly, without false notes or artifice . Playwright Snider, Director Fonseca and the entire cast deliver emotions and moments of humor that feel true and earned.

How to Use a Knife is part of the Phoenix’s participation in the National New Play Network (NNPN). The program allows playwrights to test new works at multiple venues with multiple casts. In this particular case, both playwright Snider and Indianapolis audiences are the beneficiaries.

Tickets for How to Use a Knife may be purchased by calling the box office at (317) 635-7529 or visiting phoenixtheatre.org. Curtain times are as follows: Thursdays at 7 pm, Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 8 pm, and Sundays at 2 pm. The play runs until February 12th.

  • – Photos by Zach Rosing

 

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