The Teaches of Peaches


Show #74: Peaches en Regalia, Wily West Productions, August 12.

Norman (Philip Goleman) gets a lapful from Peaches (Sarah Mosner) in Peaches en Regalia. Photo by Colin Hussey.

By Sam Hurwitt

Wily West sure does seem to like “en” titles.  Its last show was Stuart Bousel’s Juno en Victoria, and now Peaches en Regalia by Play Cafe founder Steve Lyons, on the eve of his move to Washington state. That’s a whole lot of en-titlement back to back, is all I’m saying.

Peaches en Regalia takes its name from a Franz Zappa instrumental, which isn’t mentioned in the play but is played periodically between scenes. The phrase, on the other hand, is mentioned over and over again. Here it describes a dessert—well, somewhere between a dessert and a side dish—offered by Doug’s Diner. The main character, Peaches, is obsessed with it, because—well, because her name is Peaches.  She’s so obsessed with it, in fact, that she quits her summer job at Merrill Lynch and goes to work at Doug’s, despite having no waitressing experience, just so she can be near the dish and recommend it to everyone.

Quinn J. Whitaker and Wes Cayabyab’s set is a credible depiction of a ’50s-style diner—not an actual 1950s diner but one of those ubiquitous replicas that litter the culinary landscape. Wily West gives the play a very, very animated world premiere staging by director Sara Staley that sometimes feels as if it’s trying a little too hard to get laughs, but gets them anyway.  The actors enter doing a cheesy dance to the Zappa tune with wide, goofy grins, waving bowls of Peaches en Regalia around, which is enough to make someone want to flee, but that person would be missing out on a good deal of fun to follow.

There’s no dialogue for nearly the first half of the play, just one long character monologue after another as the other actors silently act out whatever the speaker says their characters did. It’s almost a shock at the end of the first act when people finally talk to each other.

Sarah Moser has a happy-go-lucky, breathlessly enthusiastic delivery as Peaches that makes her sound a bit like a dizzy dame from an old movie. She has a larger-than-life personality, she names all her outfits, and she takes a comically long time to realize that a smarmy professor is trying to hit on her. (Even after he tries to kiss her, it takes a few minutes for it to dawn on her that he wants to have sex with her.)  She’s a college student and business major, which is only important insofar as it gives occasion for her theory that all major world events can be explained by oil prices, which in turn leads to her finding her soul mate. If you give it much thought, this scenario is uncomfortably reminiscent of the old idea that women should attend college just to find a husband, but that’s not something it really dwells on. The point is that Peaches is much more interested in signs and portents and auspiciously named dessert/side dishes than she is in whatever she’s studying.

In fact, the play is a bit of a throwback about gender roles in general. Peaches’s friend Joanne is absolutely desperate to find a husband. She creates flow charts for all her goals, and is very anxious that she’s already late to achieve her goal of being married by 35. Nicole Hammersla’s Joanne is certainly cute enough to easily attract guys, but she’s also exaggeratedly fidgety, with the designated tic of always picking at her sweater. Everything she does—the classes she takes, the pets she gets—is oriented toward the goal of landing a man. She doesn’t just appraise any guy who acknowledges her presence to see if he’d be a suitable match, but she comes up with any rationale she can to convince herself that an unpromising prospect might be the guy she’s been looking for, and stalks him to arrange a second meeting.

To be fair, it isn’t just the women who obsess over how they interact with people. Norman, a customer in Doug’s Diner who gets Peaches en Regalia dumped in his lap because Peaches isn’t really much good at waitressing, is ever so insecure and nervous. Played with wide-eyed earnestness by Philip Goleman, Norman obsesses over the slightest social interaction and practicing winks in he mirror because he’d like to be the kind of guy who’d be comfortable casually winking at people. He’s fascinated by a guy so confident, or perhaps just so much of an asshole, that he breached the restroom “circle of trust” by walking right past a line of waiting men into a hitherto-unnoticed empty stall, and wishes he had that kind of chutzpah.

That guy is Syd, played with an assured, casual swagger by Cooper Carlson. Norman assumes he’s a Republican and he is indeed, although liberal on social issues.  He has a funny rant about the difference between Republicans and Democrats at the beginning of act two—a metatheatrical interlude that has the characters changing scenes in their own story, which is amusing if you don’t think about it too much. (“It’s shocking, the shit that goes on between act one and act two,” Syd says.)

The rest of act two is one long self-contained scene, so much so that it feels like a standalone sketch in its own right—and the full-length play is an expansion of a one-act, so maybe this part was on its own at some point in time. This bit is a droll if gimmicky portrayal of couples anxiety in which months seem to go by for everyone else while it seems like a single conversation to one confused and agitated character—and to the audience.  It’s a clever device, but it doesn’t connect terribly well to the rest of the play, which turns out to be actually a little more interesting than its payoff. That’s because the first part is really setting up and getting to know the characters, and the last part is really about the situation, and the characters are only roughly sketched and almost unimportant to the narrative. One’s a worrywart and the others are carefree, and that’s pretty much all you need.

Like the titular dessert/side dish, Peaches en Regalia is a light confection whose ingredients don’t quite seem like they should go together, but goes down smoothly and pleasantly anyway.

Peaches en Regalia runs through August 27 at Stage Werx, 533 Sutter St., San Francisco.

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