Butler-native Sarah Kosar’s imagination is ‘unfettered and flowering’ in ‘Mumburger’ at Off the Wall Productions

By March 5, 2019 One Comment

“The script is like an exploratory landing on a distant, dark moon.”

Jessie Wray Goodman and Ken Bolden in “Mumburger’ at Off the Wall Productions. (Photo by Heather Mull)

By Ted Hoover
Pittsburgh Current Theater Critic

It’s a testament to Sarah Kosar’s theatrical imagination that she could turn the simple act of eating a hamburger into a moment of shock and disgust which can send an audience reeling.

Kosar, a native of Butler now living in England, wrote a play called Mumburger, here making its American debut at Off the Wall Productions. It’s a swift work about a family in distress. Hugh and Tiffany are father and daughter and the play opens with the offstage sound of Hugh’s wife being killed in an accident.

Hugh and Tiff are knocked for six by grief; he’s practically immobile, she’s a whirling dervish planning the funeral. Mom was the fulcrum of their familial triangle and now, will the survivors survive?

It’s unclear until a bag falls from the ceiling and inside is raw ground meat … of a sort. It seems that Mom – a militant vegan – has had her body chopped up, shaped into patties and delivered to her family. They will eat her to keep her memory alive. Or maybe have her essence re-entered into the lifestream. Or something else entirely. (I wasn’t clear on this part.) Several minutes later Tiffany sautés up a patty, adds a bun with ketchup and eats it … ah, her.

Of course, in reality the actress playing Tiffany isn’t eating human flesh. We all know that … but the audience went nuts anyway! The reaction was pretty funny – or rather it would have been except that I’m a 25 year vegetarian and the smell of that frying meat in that enclosed space was a little unsettling.

(But I’m sure you carnivores will be salivating! I mean, if you can choke down the salted, smoked and sliced underbelly of a pig, a little bit of ground meat shouldn’t be a problem.)

Kosar certainly lets her freak flag fly with this work which is, by turns, surreal, satire, naturalistic, spoken word, multi-media, allegorical and God knows what else. As mentioned above her theatrical imagination is unfettered and flowering and the script is like an exploratory landing on a distant, dark moon.

If I can seemingly switch subjects for a second here; One of the most irksome aspects of being a theater critic is people asking “did you like the show?” All they really want is a one-word answer (yes or no) and not my rambling disquisition but I rarely, if ever, can answer that with just one word.

Did I like Mumburger? I can’t honestly say that I did. Do I think Kosar is a bad writer? Absolutely not. (Will I stop answering my own questions? Let’s hope.)

Kosar’s greatest strength, her theatrical imagination, is also something of a weakness. Soaring in the stratosphere of ideas is all well and good, but at some point you have to come in for a landing. Kosar’s got a number of thematic strands strung out across the stage – most work, some backfire – yet never manages to weave them into a dramatic whole. Mumburger feels like a script written by a playwright finishing up a degree. It shows huge promise for something down the road.

Off the Wall director Robyne Parrish burrows inside this play like one of those tunnel-boring machines. She explores and explodes every dramaturgical beat with urgency and intent. My one qualm is that the actors never stop moving. Sometimes they run around in circles, sometimes they start dancing with one another and none of it has anything to do with the script. I don’t know if this notion is Kosar’s, but in the next rewrite it should be tossed out. The movement continually calls attention to itself, constantly upstages the dialogue and feels both precious and off-putting.

If it’s a choice of Parrish’s then I’m surprised because the rest of what she does is spot on. And nowhere has she done more forceful work than drawing the relentlessly questing performances of Jessie Wray Goodman and Ken Bolden. These two attack the work with energy, fearlessness and utter lack of ego. They are both moving balancing the situation’s mania and numbing sorrow while still finding a way to navigate some of Kosar’s more extravagant passages. It’s really remarkable work.

“Mumburger” continues through March 16. Carnegie Stage, Carnegie. 724/783-3576.

One Comment

  • The “frying meat” was a vegan burger provided courtesy of 131 East Main Street Restaurant, Carnegie. It can be found on their lunch menu under “Tremendous Burger” which it is.

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