- OnStage Chief New York Theatre Critic
Currently running at 59E59 Theaters as part of the Brits Off-Broadway Series, Richard Bean’s 1999 “Toast” slices its way through layers of delicious intrigue to a tasty core of surprises that make the journey more than worthwhile. This is drawing room farce sans the drawing room. The swinging doors here connect the unseen bakery to the break room where the soon-to-close bakery’s crusty employees vie for attention, power, and survival.
It’s a Sunday at the bakery and Blakey (played with a soulful steely interior by Steve Nicolson) is in charge of the shift. He calls Mr. Beckett his boss to report he’s a man short and to confirm Beckett has written a letter of recommendation. In a subsequent call from Beckett, Blakey learns he and his crew need to increase their production by three thousand for another bakery. This puts the bakery in production overdrive and throws the dynamics of the group of workers into a state of psychosocial exhaustion.
Mr. Beckett sends a student to cover for the missing worker and it is the addition of Lance (played with a devilish charm by John Wark) that ultimately challenges the family system of the six workers and drives the fascinating plot of Mr. Bean’s play. It is difficult to say much about Lance other than he is a bit creepy and cherishes any time he has alone with one of the workers. And he wears a red shirt. A malfunction in the oven creates the crisis in “Toast” and the resolution comes in discovering the culprit who caused the malfunction and what motivates him. Indeed, the play centers on motivation and it is the motivation of each character that brings depth and roundness to each.
Each member of the ensemble cast delivers an authentic and believable performance. Matthew Kelly is a lumbering about-to-retire Nellie who almost gets the blame for the jammed tin that shuts down the oven. Will Barton plays the combative Colin who does little to un-jam the oven. Simon Greenall is the feisty and funny Cecil whose appears to be the moral glue for the team of bakers. Kieran Knowles provides a dizzy Dezzie who cannot remember his new address and writes his phone number on his bike helmet. Matt Sutton’s scrappy Peter volunteers to fix the oven and articulates the importance of having a job and an income.
Eleanor Rhode directs “Toast” with a keen eye for the visual and wastes no movement or pause. Designer James Turner and lighting designer Mike Robertson create a bakery with gritty realism and Holly Rose Henshaw’s costumes and Max Pappenheim’s sound bring that realism to a resounding pitch of perfection. Mr. Bean – as he always manages to accomplish – creates order out of chaos and raises enduring questions from the detritus in an overflowing bin of used teabags.
Olivier Awardwinner Matthew Kelly leads the cast as Nellie. He is joined by Simon Greenall, Steve Nicolson, Will Barton, Kieran Knowles, Matt Sutton, and John Wark.
The design team includes James Turner (set design); Mike Robertson (lighting design); Max Pappenheim (composition and sound design); and Holly Rose Henshaw (costume design).
The performance schedule is Tuesday – Thursday at 7:00 p.m.; Friday at 8:00 p.m.; Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.; and Sunday at 3:00 p.m. Performances are at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues). Tickets are $70.00 ($49.00 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or visit http://www.59e59.org. Running time is 2 hours including one intermission.