THE FOOD CHAIN

Nicky Silver's 1995 Off-Broadway farce is at the same time tightly constructed and discursively verbose; outrageously bawdy yet only mildly satirical; and full of many witty zingers targeting self-image, body weight, pretentious artists, and human vanity and egotism in general. Its calculated excesses suggest more thematic significance than ever ultimately materializes. And excess predominates in the Old Globe production, directed by Matt August.

So much of what the characters do and say hits such heights of egomaniacal lunacy that a sensible strategy might have been to let the actors play these comically exaggerated roles with some degree of restraint, preserving at least a veneer of reasonableness and allowing their mad humor to proceed naturally from that emotional reality. Instead most of the performances begin in high hysteria and ascend from there. The first scene—a phone conversation between Amanda (Christa Scott-Reed), a newlywed poet whose inarticulate husband, Ford (Rod Brogan), has decamped after a week of honeymoon, and Bea (Marilyn Sokol), an incompetent hotline counselor—swiftly peaks at and maintains a high vocal and emotive intensity. The subsequent scene—between Serge (Paolo Andino), a vain fashion model, and Otto (Michael Lluberes), a blubbery blubbering blabbermouth—even tops that, exhausting the audience's amusability. Some of those who had laughed loudest did not return after intermission.

In that second scene Otto, unrealistically padded to look like a 300-pounder, revoltingly scarfs his way through numerous doughnuts, pretzels, Cheetos, Fritos, Goldfish, Oreos, and Cracker Jacks, washed down with bottles of Yoo-Hoo. Well, actually (as no actor could survive a month of such feeding frenzies), he merely masticates them whilst jabbering away insanely, causing the half-chewed cud to spew forth all over everything. By the end of this lengthy scene, the nauseating yield is coating the set. If anything could ever steal focus from a scene, from a performance, from an entire script, this was the corker. The entire play thereafter becomes a show about bad table manners. It may as well have been a dramatization of "The Goops": "The Goops they talk while eating/And loud and fast they chew."

Alas, what more can be said? The efficient and easily cleaned arena scenic design is by James F. Noone; the costumes, ranging from the silly to the sophisticated, are designed by Holly Poe Durbin; the sensitive lighting design is the work of Chris Rynne; and Paul Peterson's sound design presents a delightfully apt selection of songs. "And that is why I'm glad that I/Am not a Goop—are you?"

"The Food Chain," presented by the Old Globe Theatre at the Cassius Carter Center Stage, 1363 Old Globe Way, Balboa Park, San Diego. Tue.-Fri. 8 p.m., Sat. 2 & 8 p.m., Sun. 2 & 7 p.m. Apr. 23-May 30. $19-47. (619) 234-5623.