There is no patron saint of eating, but, really, isn’t it the nicest thing you do? Meet somebody you discover you like, and the next thing you know he’s over at your house, sharing samosas and s’mores with you. If you seek to relax a feral or otherwise skittish animal, do you not first feed it? And is the third beatitude not “blessed are the hungry, for they shall be satisfied?” And could that hungry person not be you, after a hard day of labor or other nonsense?
Thus John Feffer’s search for the perfect meal becomes, over the 75-minute course of Edible Rex, the search for the perfect connection. As he grows up he gets better at it, starting off at the Chinese restaurant of his New Jersey childhood, and improving until finally he is a foreign policy specialist, with a special expertise on Korea, and can take the search worldwide. He has some specific rules of engagement – the meal must be discovered on his own, without the help of the concierge, and cannot be at a chain restaurant or other absurdity – and his long-suffering wife, assisted by what he calls “range extenders” (small snacks, usually from street vendors), generally comes along with him for verification.
At the same time, other characters are engaged in their own searches for perfection, and connection. Alexis Soyer (John Feffer), the inventor of the soup kitchen and the camp stove, but otherwise a – well, let’s just say, otherwise a French Chef, seeks to serve a perfect meal as Feffer seeks to eat one. He opens the Gastronomic Symposium across from the Crystal Palace exposition in 1851, and there offers exotic dishes such as dog’s soup to exposition visitors, who can’t get a hot meal at the Palace. It is not a success.
And consider Mel Feffer (John Feffer), father of John, an expert in child psychology who wrote “The Structure of Freudian Thought: the Problem of Immutability and Discontinuity in Developmental Theory”, which was published in 1982. As Mel Feffer probes more deeply into his themes, his audience diminishes. His fourth and most complete examination remains unpublished, seven years after his death.
Of course, these people are not monomaniacs: John Feffer is a novelist (under the name of Jon Berson) as well as a foreign policy expert and gastronome, and his father cooked a mean roast chicken when he was not delving into developmental theory. As for Soyer, his food was never far from his ego but he was sufficiently aware of his surroundings to devise a way of feeding the impoverished and men at war which did not involve cognac or crème sauce.
But they did put their hearts into their quests, and it is sad to see their lives pass into the shade without fulfilling their dreams. John Feffer draws wisdom from it, though, and begins to experience the perfection of the life around him.
Feffer, whose Krapp’s Last Power Point was one of the surprise delights of last year’s Fringe, here shows a stronger hand as a performer to go along with his excellent writing. While I have no idea what Soyer or Feffer’s father really sounded like, Feffer does a credible French accent, and as Mel Feffer sounds like every well-educated lifelong denizen of New Jersey I have ever met, and it was astounding to see Feffer the actor age a decade or so right before our eyes. Feffer uses a director (Matthew Wayne) this year, clearly to his advantage.
Edible Rex is a gentle, warmly funny meditation which begins with food and ends with the problems of expectation, perfection and legacy. May all your connections be like that.
Written, produced and performed by John Feffer
Directed by Matthew Wayne
Reviewed by Tim Treanor
Running time: 75 minutes
Note: The opening night show ran over its time limit, and Fringe officials forced it to shut down about five minutes before its conclusion. I obtained the remainder of the script, and my judgments about this show are based on the portion that I watched and upon my judgment of what the remainder would have been like, based on the script. We have learned that the show now fits its time frame.
Read all the reviews and check out the full Capital Fringe schedule here.
Did you see the show? What did you think?