Back-Porch Picnic On Fire Island: Cooking With Terrence McNally in Lips Together, Teeth Apart
Terrence McNally's Lips Together, Teeth Apart is located in and around a luxury beach house in the swankiest part of New York's Fire Island, occupied on a Fourth of July weekend by two couples sunk in their respective funks despite the revelry surrounding them. The Eclipse Theatre Company's production occupies a third-floor studio with a stage measuring a spartan twenty-four by twenty-eight feet, with nary a spare inch to hint at sand dunes or volleyball nets.
Though the restrictive quarters mean that the "pool" repeatedly referenced in the script is foreshortened to the dimensions of a hot tub, and the long-discarded child's wagon used for schlepping groceries remains immobile under the porch, the technical staff goes all out in its depiction of holiday refreshment. Wine is sipped in deep, dark draughts from delicate glasses, breakfast muffins are served up with culinary flourish and Bloody Mary cocktails emerge from the kitchen flying plumes of celery greens so enticingly fresh as to tempt thirsty playgoers within reach of the tray.
What most sets audiences to salivating, however, is their return from the first of the evening's two intermissions to be greeted in the auditorium by the delectable aroma of hamburgers sizzling on a smoking Weber backyard grill.
Wait a minute! Don't fire codes nowadays mandate that you can hardly strike a match in a theater without the permission of inspectors? How do the Eclipse actors get away with holding a cook-out onstage? What about the coughing and sniffles triggered in hypersensitive audiences by even a suggestion of incendiary activity?
"It's really very easy," says managing director Kevin Scott, "The Weber grill is the real thing, but inside, where the charcoal would normally go, we've got the heating unit from an electric smoker. Ashley Petit, our assistant stage manager, plugs it in just before the end of act one, so that when the audience is ready to break for intermission, it's hot enough for her to put the burgers on and have them cooked and ready to eat by the first scene of act two."
And the fire department doesn't object to the barbecue? "We didn't need clearance, since it's all electric, with no fumes to raise carcinogenic issues." explains Scott, "As with any procedure involving dripping grease, a liner of aluminum foil is necessary to catch the juices before they catch fire and burn—which is probably why we haven't had any problems with lingering odor. It's like a George Forman grill on steroids."
Lips Together, Teeth Apart runs at the Athenaeum through May 24.
Mary Shen Barnidge
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