Capital Stage is premiering a raucous new play called “How to Use a Knife,” set in a frenzied restaurant kitchen, where the surly cooks crank out orders as fast as they can. The show begins as an expletive-laced comedy, then veers into serious dramatic territory.
Picture a noisy kitchen, with stainless steel counters and stockpots. And we’re talking about a restaurant that serves lots of burgers. The portly chef has clearly worked in high class restaurants. He’s come down in the world, and he knows it.
Chef: Fire! Two greens, one cabbage. Order in, two burgers, one medium, one rare.
The chef wears a battle-tested, world-weary look, and he’s given to angry outbursts. He’s clearly got a troubled past. But he’s determined to run a tight ship, even in this joint, and he isn’t afraid to put a little disciplinary heat on his staff.
Chef: Half your paycheck every week gets a bar and Corona. And you come stumbling out in the morning, and I’ve gotta deal with the consequences.
Carlos: I gotta deal with you, too, Chef!
Chef: Oh, you got lip!
Carlos: I have no lip.
Chef: Yeah, you got a little bit of lip.
Carlos: I have absolutely no lip, Chef.
Chef: (Bleep), Carlos, I’ve seen Taco Bells in South Carolina run better than this.
Carlos: Oh, that’s where you worked before here?
Over in the corner, there’s an African immigrant washing dishes. He doesn’t say anything for a long time, and the Chef assumes he doesn’t understand English.
But as it turns out, the dishwasher speaks English rather well, and in a quiet moment, he asks the Chef to teach him some of the finer points of cooking. The first lesson involves how to use a knife, which is where the title of the play comes from.
Chef: Now the knife becomes a part of me. Where I move it…
Dishwasher: Like I have blades for hands.
Dishwasher: And I keep strength on all points.
Chef: Wherever you move…
Dishwasher: … I am a knife.
Chef: You are!
Dishwasher: I feel strong.
Chef: You feel like a COOK!
A mutually respectful relationship begins, akin to friendship. But it gradually becomes evident that just like the chef, this dishwasher has a past that he doesn’t want to talk about. And then the immigration authorities show up, looking for a guy who seems to work under a lot of different aliases.
The play shifts from a sassy, stressed-out kitchen farce into a drama about weaponry, ethnic conflict, guerilla warfare, and things much worse than that.
This show features multiple standout performances, including Harry Harris as the red-eyed, substance-abusing chef approaching the end of his tether, and Adrian Roberts as the quiet dishwasher, whose serene exterior conceals something sinister.
“How to Use a Knife” is yet another excellent and well-balanced production from Capital Stage, which seems to move from strength to strength these days.