Hotdish – A Bit of Everything in One Play

“Cooking is the key ingredient in being human”

Pony World Theatre’s Hotdish opened this past Friday, November 3rd at 12th Avenue Arts Studio Theatre. Brendan Healy’s writing with Charolotte Peters’s directing combine beautifully to tell the humorous story addressing how to live with the past, the present, your family, and yourself.

Hotdish centers around the Liggett family of three and their respective problems. Toby Liggett (James Hyun Lee) – an unemployed, socially awkward cooking show fanatic – has been living in his younger sister’s apartment and his own fantasy world. Kayla Liggett (Sydney Kaser) – Toby’s younger, divorced businesswoman sister – struggles with the impossibility of taking care of herself, Toby, reuniting with her ex-husband Kevin (Van Lang Pham), and life’s tendency to complicate everything. When Toby and Kayla’s mother Evelyn’s (Rebecca Goldberg) financial burdens are revealed, the strength of the Liggett family’s connection is put to the test.

Brendan Healy balances uniquely specific humor with elaborately poetic metaphors. The relationship between Toby and Kayla is a believable sibling relationship full of mocking jabs and borrowing each other’s items before asking. Evelyn’s character came across as weaker, and specifically as inconsistent and eye-rolling-ly irritating. She switches from helicopter-parenting her fully grown adult daughter to enthusiastically dropping f-bombs and talking about sex.

The plane of reality of scenes throughout the play was a bit difficult to follow. While there are clues that establish fantastical and un-real presences and entities – such as portals in refrigerators, glitching timers, and empty plates of food, it’s disorienting to figure out what should be accepted as part of the suspense of disbelief inherent in attending a theatre performance, and what indicates the fantasy world of Toby’s imagination.

Particularly notable about Hotdish is Jessica Robins’s portrayal of the character(s) of Miranda. Robins’s comedic timing, delivery, and over-dramatization contribute substantially to the play’s success. While I struggled to determine whether all of Robins’s characters were part of one collective magical entity, or if they were distinctly separate characters, their execution in every one of their scenes nearly made up for that confusion.

Another stand-out component of this production is the set, prop, and projection design, by Sann Hall, Andrea Spraycar, and Brendan Mack, respectively. The set of an incredibly detailed apartment kitchen transforms into bars, hotel rooms, a bank, and the set of the cooking show Champion Chef. Slight adjustments to the set between scenes effectively change the setting without taking too long or being distracting. The “live stream” projections during the Champion Chef segments, the signs for the bars and bank, “hotel art”, and liquor bottles onto the cabinets work particularly well in orienting the audience to the scene.

Hotdish opens with a Netflix intro for Champion Chef projected on a cloth screen covering the stage, which effectively sets the mood and humor for the rest of the show. The pre-recorded audio track was a substantial amount quieter than the actors’ voices and was a bit difficult to hear.

Another moment that was difficult for me to follow auditorily was the climax in which Toby, Kayla, and Evelyn all loudly and passionately talk at the same time. While this portrayed the chaos and emotional weight fantastically, it made it impossible to listen to what even just one of the characters is saying. The emotional tumult and exacerbation is built up so well throughout the play, that it’s a bit disappointing not to be able to hear what the characters are saying.

In the heat of the emotional density of the climax, a heartbreaking revelation about Toby and Kayla’s late father and its relevancy to Toby’s struggle finally bursts the intense pressure of the emotional build ups of the play. While this scene is effectively intense for the story line, the severity of the topic at its core is quite overwhelming to unsuspecting and unprepared audience members, warranting a trigger/ content warning, in my opinion.

The namesake of Hotdish appears in the final buildup to the climax and communicates the symbolic importance of the play’s title. It acts as a great vessel for the increasing heat and emotional pressure, and fits in well with the established cooking show. What’s disorienting is that while previously only Toby, Miranda, and the show crew have been in Champion Chef scenes, Kayla and Evelyn enter at this point as well. This is confusing as it’s unclear whether Kayla and Evelyn are now able to enter Toby’s imaginary world, if Toby’s imaginary world has become reality, or if Kayla and Evelyn are imaginary for him too in this scene.

Despite the few confusing inconsistencies, they do not overpower the play, and the story’s emotional power comes through beautifully through writing, directing, design, and the actors’ portrayal of the characters. General admission tickets cost $24, but pay what you can (PWYC) shows are also available. Before going, audience members should be aware that there are numerous expletives and mentions of suicide and suicidal ideation. With its humor, excellent writing, and powerful emotional portrayal, Hotdish is a wonderful performance to watch.

Hotdish by Brendan Healy, Pony World Theatre, 12th Avenue Arts Studio Theatre, 1620 12th Ave, Seattle 98122. Thur – Sat 7:30 til Dec 2, PWYC 11/9 11/20 11/26 2pm. Tickets: Info: Limited street parking. Take Capitol Hill Sound Transit or #10 bus.

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