Total Rating: 
January 17, 2018
February 11, 2018
Florida Studio Theater
Theater Type: 
Florida Studio Theater - Bowne's Lab
Theater Address: 
First Street & Cocoanut Avenue
Running Time: 
1 hr, 45 min
Will Snider
Jason Cannon

In his New York restaurant catering to business lunchers, self aggrandizing Michael is giving a second chance to George, a chef who was his boss and teacher. George will once again helm a kitchen, though at night when menu and clientele are very limited. A recovering alcoholic and druggie, George has charge of two Hispanic line cooks, a waiter, and a dishwashing mopper. How will he and those under him fare?

How to Use a Knife opens Florida Studio Theatre’s 2018 Stage III series of edgy dramas from the National New Play Network. Staged with minimal technical elements, activity is mostly mimed but characters’ clothes are as realistic as their interactions and problems. And like a knife that will add to suspense, for all are intriguingly mysterious.

Chris Tipp is first rate as Michael. This jerk doesn’t hide his wondering if George is really okay. From the get-go, Sam Mossier’s impeccable chef George seems to be undergoing anxieties, thus isn’t averse to screaming his expectations and orders. He immediately pounces on Michael Fraser’s waiter Jack for sneaking gulps of wine.

A perpetual adolescent though college graduate, Jack’s just a shade off the boss in terms of his conceit. Because he wants to be a writer, he should value what George can show him about observing, about doing what’s required, not drinking. Will Jack learn or grow in resentment?

Of the two Guatemalan line cooks—or are they, as sometimes called, Mexicans, and legal?—Alfredo de Quesada’s Carlos seems to be the senior. He also speaks English, when he’s not consorting with or bossing Omar Pelaez’s harried Miguel in Spanish. Do both or just one know what’s going on with the other men and how might they be affected?

Cedric Cannon shows Steve from Africa as a quiet, efficient, even serene dishwasher and general cleaning man. George is surprised to learn Steve is not Muslim but a Christian who speaks fine English. Alcohol ruined his father, a former grand chef.

When Steve helps George cure anxiety with a meditative exercise, their friendship begins. So does a bargain: George will teach Steve to cook and so have someone to do things that meet his standards. Lessons begin with the most important skill: how to prepare and use a knife well. Sam Mossier could not be more masterful at it.

Soon the friends share their intimate secrets and the terrors that have resulted from their actions. Visits from Alexis Hyatt as Kim, a (strangely near-hysterical and shouting) federal agent seeking a war-crimes suspect, change everything.

What conclusion does George reach after reading details of the conflict in Africa? As for Kim’s investigation, what happens to Steve and the Latin cooks? How does Michael react and Jack act?

Despite the undue length an audience must endure to get answers, the effort is worthwhile. Author Will Snider has written an arresting play about important subjects. A little editing would make it even better. I heard audience members say there was too much Spanish spoken early on with no indication of meaning for English-only users.

Jason Cannon’s direction wins serious attention for the issues raised, though he could calm down the agent who at FST is decidedly not her kind of professional in the real world. His prescribing of suggestive props works well to set the scene, and it’s important that all the implements of cooking and serving are real so that the titled knife is not an anomaly. He’s made #1 good directorial choices for Stage III.

Sam Mossler, Cedric Cannon, Chris Tipp, Michael Fraser, Alfredo de Quesada, Omar Pelaez, Alexis Hyatt
Set: Bruce Price; Costumes: Adrienne Webber; Lights: Bryce Benson; Sound: Thomas Karp; Stage Mgr.: Jynelly Rosario
Marie J. Kilker
Date Reviewed: 
January 2018