How To Use A Knife: sharp and entertaining

Mixed Blood Theatre, through October 15

Zack Myers and Ansa Akyea In HOW TO USE A KNIFE. Photo by Rich Ryan.

Will Snider‘s raucous How To Use A Knife (Mixed Blood, through Oct 15) niftily captures the cascading chaos of a modern American restaurant kitchen. Chef George rides herd – well, tries to – on his crazed Guatamalan line chefs, Miguel and Carlos, who are mostly, it seems, preparing hamburgers and fries. Rapid fire Spanish and English, Spanglish and the fuck-word fly as George barks demands and insults, struggling to keep his minions on-task and honest. He doesn’t actually do much – he’s new – but he pretty effectively keeps things moving.

Then, as the insanity proceeds, we come aware of the meditative dishwasher, Steve (or so he calls himself), doing his job fusslessly and quietly, an island of calm in the over-the-top mayhem of the kitchen. George becomes aware of him, too, and as Steve demos yoga to the harried chef, we get dribs and drabs of info, about Steve’s militaristic past, etc. The Bad Guy, Kimberly, comes in and tries to wrench Secrets from the employment files.

The Secrets. Certainly there many and I am certainly not going to spoil How To Use A Knife by revealing them to you. Enough said.

The play bristles with comic energy. Although there are things that may not appeal – the (over)use of loud drum scene transitions, the use of self-conscious past-tense revelations – the acting more than makes up for shortcomings in the script. As “Steve,” Ansa Akyea is a wonder, contained, dignified, a wonderful contrast to the boistrousness of the other characters. As George, Zack Myers summons enough gruff power to keep the troops in line – and he plays his Secret perfectly. Jake Caceres and Paul Ramos (I hope I have them right) are hootful as the Guatamalan line cooks. As Kimberley, the buttoned down ICE agent, Taous Khazam is exquisite, focused, utterly unwilling to be played. I would obey her in all things.

Kudos to director Jesca Prudencio for keeping things moving and frantic, to designer Joseph Stanley for a creating a convincing onstage kitchen.

Deep and multi-layered How To Use A Knife is not. But for pure energy and entertainment value you can’t do better.

John Olive is a writer living in Minneapolis. His book, Tell Me A Story In The Dark, about the magic of bedtime stories, has been published. His Anna May Wong bioplay, How The Ghost Of You Clings, will be presented by the Playwrights Center as part of the 2018 Ruth Easton Festival. Please visit John’s informational website.




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