First Prize & Home Fries: A Real Live Documentary | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

First Prize & Home Fries: A Real Live Documentary 

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First Prize & Home Fries: A Real Live Documentary, at Urbus Orbis.

You know Nan. She's the waitress who serves up a nice slice of common sense with your stale cherry pie. She smiles when you walk in, fills your cup of nasty coffee to the brim, tells you she'll "take real good care of ya," and salutes you with a wave and a "Y'all come back now, y' hear?" when you head back out on the road to Galveston.

You probably wouldn't give her a second thought if it weren't for the fact that Wendye Clarendon has devoted an hour-long show to her, exploring her hopes, dreams, fears, and philosophy in First Prize & Home Fries: A Real Live Documentary. This one-woman play, directed by and written with R. John Roberts, follows Nan on her last day at Bradley's Restaurant, where she's being filmed: having won the lottery, she's decided to pack it in after a 25-year career. We get to know her favorite customers, the dirt about her boss and coworkers, and the way money's beginning to change her family even if it will never change her.

No great revelations here, no astounding depth, just an hour of pouring coffee, folding napkins, and chitchatting--just like spending an hour in an off-the-road restaurant, but without the indigestion. It seems the idea was to celebrate a life remarkable only for its unremarkableness and simplicity, but the observations here, far from opening the audience's eyes to the beauty of everyday life, threaten to close them completely. What saves the evening is the dead-on, unwavering portrait of Nan, apparently based on someone Clarendon knew for 12 years. Now that she's got this deeply felt, wonderfully detailed and believable character, she should come up with a play to go with her.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Denise Wiler.

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