Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay

Review by Richard Connema | Season Schedule

Fred's Diner
Magic Theatre

Also see Richard's reviews of Dogfight, Lizzie, and The Events

Julia McNeal and Donald Sage McKay
Fred's Diner opens up with diner owner Fred (Donald Sage Mackey) talking philosophically talking about the Internet. He is a breezy Irishman and is much in control of the establishment of his three waitresses: daughter Melissa (Katherine Chin), with ambitions to study law at Oxford: irresponsible and selfish Chloe (Jessi Campbell), just back from a year in Thailand with a shocking pink hair weave; and the more serious Heather (Julia McNeal), an older woman with a dark and secret past.

Penelope Skinner's Fred's Diner all takes place in a '50s-themed diner of lost souls off an English motorway during Christmas time. The play is having its American premiere at the Magic Theatre. The playwright's words shuffle along in an agreeable if wordy way in the first act. From beneath the cheery banter, a darker story begins to unfold.

We see customers at the diner, including Sunny (Terry Lamb), an elderly man who is lonely and incurably romantic and who also spouts metaphysically statements, and Greg (Nick Day), cast adrift from his parents' broken marriage. When you see a baseball bat behind the counter earlier in the first act, you can bet that object will be used later.

Loretta Greco has assembled a talented group of actors for this two-hour drama, and her direction is firm and perceptive. Donald Sage Mackay is excellent as jovial, volatile, liquor-loving single parent Fred. He has a great theatrical voice that resonates throughout the three-sided theatre. Jessie Campbell, Katharine Chin, and Julia McNeal are first rate as the waitresses. They give the characters an intricacy that is nicely developed and raises them above their too visibly functional roles. Terry Lamb gives a pitch perfect portrayal of the solitary Sunny, while Nick Day sparks up the drama whenever he appears with a spot-on mid-English accent.

Erik Flatmo has devised an excellent detailed set of a 1950s-style diner with black-and-white tile floor, curved Formica booth tables, long bar, high stools, jukebox, and Christmas decorations draped across the windows. I felt as if I could step on stage and order a hamburger and milkshake. Alex Jaeger has designed the waitress costumes of bright pink outfits that look very '50s, and sound designer Sara Huddleston has inserted great '50s songs that give a feel of that era.

Penelope Skinner is a promising playwright; however, Fred's Dinner, with a definite trace of theatre, is a stylish, neatly crafted television drama.

Fred's Diner runs through Sunday October 11th, 2015, at the Magic Theatre. Fort Mason Center, 2 Marina Blvd. Bldg.D, San Francisco. For tickets call 415-441-8822 or visit Coming up next is Tanya Barfield's Bright Half Life opening on November 4th.

Photo: Jennifer Reiley

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