Man Saved By Condiments by Mary Jo Pehl is a dramatization of the true story of a man whose car went off a bridge while he was on his way to work. With a broken hip, no cell phone and no one aware of where he was, he survived for five days by eating snow and the packets of condiments he found strewn around the floor of his garbage heap that passes for a car.
The solo show, directed by Bill Stiteler, starts off a bit clumsily as every thought is expressed aloud by Steve (Tim Uren) for the sake of the constructs of the play. While the back story explains that in order to stay sane the man talks to himself the device is somewhat forced for the sake of theatricality. It also doesn’t help that Steve is somewhat unlikable and not particularly introspective. He’s got a chip on his shoulder and (as bits of his life are revealed through the various moments when he’s either talking to himself, chatting with squirrels or railing at God) there’s not much redeeming about him.
Middle aged, living with his mother, a fan of “my man W”, he can’t commit to his girlfriend, seems to think he’s better than his other security guard co-workers because he’s studying to be an EMT, and (though facing possible starvation) throws out international non-dairy creamer exclaiming “What am I, gay or something? Better throw those out before the guys find me!” Let’s just be grateful that the icepick he used to scrape peanut butter out of the bottom of the jar of Skippy wasn’t a girly shade of pink or he might have thrown that out the window as well. He is, of course, heterosexual enough to take the opportunity to try to “ease his pain” as he imagines Faith Hill approaching him in a see-through tube top and giving him mouth to mouth with her perfect lips … that is until he discovers that his broken hip keeps him from indulging in any type of self pleasuring. Which I, for one, was grateful.
“This is way too long to just sit here and think,” he muses, and for a moment it looks like this one-note show is not going to provide anything more but this man sitting in his car, talking to himself in real time, with no particular story arc. Things take a turn for the better when he begins to assess his life and we are given an opportunity to see the deeper notes of both this trapped man as well as Tim Uren who is finally able to imbue the unlikable Steve with some redeeming qualities. Relating a story (to a passing squirrel) about how he almost choked on a piece of bacon gives Uren a chance to woo the audience. Steve reflects on how, alone, he found himself choking and was terrified that he would die alone. Attempting to give himself the Heimlich maneuver by throwing himself over a piece of furniture he finds himself hesitant to mar his mother’s Sears sofa. Not only does the moment feel exquisitely ironic -a man hearkening back to a moment when gluttony almost caused his death during a time when he now may die of starvation- but this also gives a richly colored snapshot into the life of a man who is terribly lonely, regretful at how things didn’t work out, and just not ready to die.
Once this scene happens and the wall comes down Steve as a character becomes far more accessible and Uren brings forth moments which produce a lump in your throat as the simple humanity of this man is coaxed out further and further. However, it is not much longer after this moment when Steve’s car is found and a quick off-stage “Hey are you okay down there” soon lead to “What is this, non-dairy creamer? What are you, gay?” It’s an unnecessary call back and only serves to remind the audience that whatever “ah-ha” moment may have happened to Steve during his ordeal is going to be left in the car along with the empty ketchup packets.
Although director Bill Stiteler does his level best to work with the obviously talented Uren to deliver as many emotional peaks as possible, the bottom line is that this is a rather slim story with not much bite.
~~~Man Saved by Condiments! Company: Theatre Alro Directed by: Bill Stiteler & Matthew Foster Mar 02, 11:00PM Mar 03, 9:30PM $14.00 The Red Room